Tomorrow, amidst the usual chaos of the day preceding the first Seder, we'll take a few moments to recite the blessing: Praised are You, Our God, King of the universe, who performs the acts of creation. Many of us will participate in longer services that might include Biblical readings, new age meditations, or reflections on Jewish environmental values as well.
The blessing, Birkhat Ha-Chamah, is recited once every 28 years and is supposed to happen at a vernal equinox at which the sun is in the position it occupied at the time of the biblical story of creation. Of course, the assumptions and beliefs upon which this occurrence is based are questionable if not outright faulty from a scientific point of view (http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1238562915665&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter:// )
Yet, large numbers of Jews from across the theological spectrum will take from 10 minutes to an hour to join in groups and solemnize this event together. What is the draw?
While there are probably several answers, for me the significance is not astronomical, spiritual or environmental. It is, as so many things in nature and in Judaism, a way of marking time. Just as Halley's comet is one of those once or twice in a lifetime events, and the biblical Jubilee year would have only been observed once or twice in a lifetime (if it indeed was ever observed at all), so the Birkhat Ha-Chamah serves to mark time and give us cause to reflect on where we've come over 28 years and what the next 28 years might hold in store.
I remember exactly where I was 28 years ago: on the front steps of the congregation in which I served as a rabbi/educator in Atlanta, GA. I was a young rabbi, a fairly creative educator. My wife and I had no kids yet and it seemed that this first full-time job might last for many years. We were pretty sure that we would live in Israel, but had no concrete plans for how that would work. Idealism and youth reigned. And I remember being very conscious of wanting to remember the moment so that in 28 years, I could reflect back on those years.
Tomorrow I will do so. I will have gone through the bitterness of being asked to leave the rabbinic position and of reinventing myself as a community-based Jewish educator. We indefinitely postponed the Israel part of our lives, while having the blessing of raising three wonderful children. The 28 years took us through adventures in St. Louis, Providence and New York. Along the way I had the good fortune to meet many wonderful people, to realize how little I really knew and to apply myself to learning and growing.
There are no guarantees for 28 years from now. Life expectancy charts work against my being alive at age 81, which adds a whole different dimension to this ritual for me on this round.
My suggestion (which I have made to my own kids): The sun is a blessing. Our lives are blessings. Take those few minutes tomorrow to look back at the last 28 years (or if you're younger, go as far back in memory as you can). Reflect on the journey so far. Think for a moment about where you are at the moment. Then meditate a bit on what you think the nest 28 years might look like. Perhaps even write a time capsule for yourself.
Then, get out there and start the next 28-year journey just as the sun, according to tradition, does.
Praised are You, Our God, King of the universe, who performs the acts of creation.