13 of the First Month 5769
Rabbi, I have heard different opinions regarding Birkath HaHamma (said once in 28 years), including some who say one should not say this B'rakha. What is your view?
This is a very complex issue, and it is quite impossible to explain the matter in this forum. Therefore I shall limit myself to the following:
1. The text before us in the Talmudh Bavli (B'rakhoth 59b) is corrupt. The statement attributed to Abbaye - the supposed source of this B'rakha - was never said by him, and was interpolated into the text at the beginning of the period of the Rishonim. None of the G'onim knew of Abbaye's statement. Some, such as Rav Sa'adya Gaon (p. 90), contradict it. It follows that the notion of saying a B'rakha once in 28 years (and on something one cannot see) was never mandated by the Sages. This entire issue is based on an error in the text.
2. The statement is almost certainly based on a sectarian solar calendar, such as that mentioned in the Book of Jubilees. Thus the entire concept contradicts Hazal who worked with a lunar calendar.
3. Even if Hazal had mandated such a B'rakha once every 28 years, the calculation used today, based on the T'qupha of Sh'muel which assumes a year of 365.25 days, is inaccurate. The real figure is 365.24219 days. Over 2000 years, the discrepancy adds up -today it amounts to over two weeks. If anything, the B'rakha should have been said on the day of the vernal or March equinox (March 20), the astronomical event supposedly referred to by Abbaye. On Nissan 14th this year no astronomical event will take place, and saying the B'rakha then cannot be justified.
4. This B'rakha is mentioned in the Talmudh Y'rushalmi (B'rakhoth 9:2) and in WaYiqra Rabba (23:8). According to these sources (which also know nothing of a 28-year cycle) the B'rakha should be said whenever one sees the sun and is moved by its power and majesty, something which happens occasionally. When one internalizes the fact that this is a manifestation of HASHEM's wisdom and power, one makes the B'rakha. Further one should say it if the sun was not visible for three days (such as consecutive stormy or cloudy days). This is what I recommend doing. According to Rav Sa'adya Gaon one recites the B'rakha annually on the summer or June soltice (June 20-21). This too is possible.
5. Unfortunately we have here another example of the rabbinic establishment burying its head in the sand, unwilling to tackle real issues of science and knowledge. This does the Jewish people a great disservice, and paints the Tora in a very negative light.
6. The Tora world must formulate an intelligent and viable conception of Tora in keeping with objective knowledge and realities. We cannot and must not live in the Dark Ages; this was not HASHEM's intention.