Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Birkas Hachammah Retrospective

Birkat HaHammah is past us, until we meet again in 28 years. But there are still three points I want to mention about this subject.
  1. In the Forward, Philologos discusses why it is Birkat HaChammah as opposed to Birkat HaShemesh. His answer is more or less my answer -- that different words in a language are more popular in different times.

  2. At Life In Israel, Rafi G. notes tzedakah organizations using Birchas HaChamah as a marketing tactic. They note that it is on erev Pesach, the last time in history. And by donating, you can get Gadol X to daven for you by this blessing.

    He wonders if this is a prediction/declaration that mashiach is coming soon. As pointed out in the comments, this is not so: one can parse this is two ways: That this is on erev Pesach, and that this is the very last Birchat HaChammah in history, such that mashiach will arrive within 28 years; or more likely, and solidly, that this is the last time in history that Birchat HaChamah will occur on erev Pesach.

    If this second, more likely, parsing, then it is also possibly based on a misunderstanding, and with a possible messianic tie-in -- related to the Ostravtza Gaon's declaration about three times in history that Birchas HaChamah falls on erev Pesach: namely, on Pesach Mitzrayim, the year of Purim, and now. As Rabbi Bleich discussed in his book on Birchas HaChammah, Pesach Mitzrayim and the year of Purim did not fall out in the year of the blessing on the sun. And it occurred many more times in history than three times, including the recent one in 1925.

    Furthermore, assuming, ch"v, that mashiach defies predictions of when he must come, there will be at another time in history that Birkat HaChamah falls out on erev Pesach: On April 12, 2541. That is in 500 years from now, but I wonder if, if it turns out mashiach has not yet arrived, the donor's heirs can sue in bet din for a refund of their donations.

  3. So what did I do for Birchas HaChamah? Did I avoid it because of the bracha levatalah? Well, I kind of chickened out. I went to a shul with a siyum, for my minor son, and afterwards they had Birchas HaChamah. I did not go the the major gathering in the park or by YCQ because I was needed at home -- Junior was sick with a fever, and we had all sorts of Pesach preparations to do. (I wonder what they did, since the sun was not so visible later in the day...) I figured al tifrosh min hatzibur, so I stayed their with my moneybag and walking stick. I figured that there is no real issue saying the tehillim and aleinu with the tzibbur. But because I was privately concerned about the bracha levatalah, I said it without shem umalchut, and also said amen to the rabbi's bracha. Someone I was speaking to after the gathering (who did not know my course of action) mentioned that the Maharal said it without shem umalchut because of such a concern.


Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

So you are more "frum" than the Rambam, who was well aware of the astronomical issues but legislated that Birkat Ha-hama be recited every 28 years.

Child Ish Behavior said...

I went to the ocean at 5:30 in the morning, no bracha livatala questions. And it looked super cool to boot.

joshwaxman said...

"So you are more "frum" than the Rambam"

certainly not more frum, but perhaps read the sources differently. rambam did not legislate from scratch, but just encoded what he understood Chazal legislated.


Jeremy said...

Did I miss a post on being obligated to attend a siyyum in your son's stead?

joshwaxman said...

Child Ish:

It is a good issue, but I did not get into it this year.


Aton said...

Too late for this cycle, but R. Moshe Shapiro apparently raised many of your questions in a pre-Bircas HaChammah shiur at Ner Israel. Stumbled across it while trying to dig up good audio mp3 shiurim on Nega'im to get a better handle on this week's Parsha (didn't find any). Maybe he reads parshablog. He had a nice Drush in response, which would ameliorate the substantive points, though I'm not terribly convinced it's pshat.

joshwaxman said...

I'll try to listen to it.



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