Sunday, April 19, 2009

Seventh Day of Pesah II

Another approach to the question of why the Torah established the seventh day of Pesah as a full-fledged holiday is expressed in many traditional sources and is widely known; namely, the seventh day is, according to the Midrashim, the day on which Hashem split the Sea of Reeds, allowing the Jewish people to pass through to safety and drowning their Egyptian pursuers. This view of the origin of the special status of the seventh day of Pesah is reflected in the Torah reading for that day - we read the beginning of Parashat Beshalah, which describes the Jews' exit from Egypt, Pharaoh's final change of heart, and the ensuing drama at the Sea.

The first difficulty with this explanation is a basic one. The Exodus was the culmination of a multi-stage process. It did not occur in one fell swoop. Yet we do not find that the Torah requires us to commemorate each of the ten plagues with a distinct holiday; we reflect upon all of them, and the lessons they represent, on the first day of Pesah.

On the surface, it would seem that the splitting of the sea is no different. It was certainly a magnificent and miraculous occurrence that is worthy of mention at the Seder; however, all things considered, it is just another component of the process by which the Jews were led by Hashem to freedom. Why does the splitting of the sea justify the creation of another full fledged holiday any more than any of the other plagues that befell the Egyptians and facilitated our liberation?

A second, equally significant difficulty pertains to the story of the splitting of the sea itself. Pharaoh had acquiesced, albeit after much resistance, to Hashem's command to release the Jewish people from bondage. They were well on their way to receive the Torah and settle in the Land of Israel. Apparently, though, Hashem was not satisfied with this outcome. He insisted upon enticing Pharoah to pursue his former slaves, so that he and his army would meet their demise in the Sea of Reeds. Why wasn't the liberation of the Jewish slaves sufficient? Why was it necessary, from Hashem's perspective, to punish the Egyptians further?

I would suggest the following answer: Through their experience of the plagues and their witnessing the remarkable turn of events in Egypt, the Jewish people had become fully convinced that it was worthwhile to commit themselves to following the path of Hashem and to leave Egyptian life behind once and for all. This, in and of itself, was wonderful, but was not a complete 'redemption'.

If Pharaoh had resumed business as usual after the departure of the Jews, he may eventually have seen a rehabilitation of the Egyptian economy and infrastructure, etc. The ordeal with the plagues would have registered in the minds of the Egyptians and the Jews, in retrospect, as a challenge to Pharaoh's sovereignty that was ultimately overcome. Pharaoh took a beating but was not defeated; he may have lost the battle but he was fully capable of continuing the war if need be. While life under God's Kingship might have been proven to be viable, life under the kingship of Man would still exist, at least in theory, as a reasonable (and tempting) alternative. Torah and Egyptian culture would have been seen as two equally valid options - each with their positives and negatives, their strengths and weaknesses - but two options of substance nonetheless.

For this reason, Hashem orchestrated the splitting of the Sea and saw to it that the Children of Israel witnessed the drowning of their oppressors in its depths, as the Torah states:

And Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the bank of the Sea.

The Talmud comments that, before they saw the corpses of the Egyptians wash ashore, the Jews imagined that their tormentors had survived on the other side of the Sea, that they had withdrawn from the water before it was too late. In other words, they fantasized that the kingdom of man could prevail; although it might lose some battles, it remained a contender in the cosmic struggle for mastery of the Universe. Hashem, therefore, willed that the dead Egyptians be seen by the Jews, so that the harsh reality of their fate would be known beyond the shadow of a doubt.

And it is precisely because the Jewish people were then totally disabused of any fantasies about the potential of human dominion to contend with God that we read:

And Israel saw the great hand that Hashem manifested against Egypt, and the people feared Hashem; and they trusted Hashem and Moshe, His servant.

Indeed, the conclusion of the Song at the Sea summarizes the lesson of this dramatic event in one sentence:

Hashem will reign for all eternity -

That is, He did not merely prevail in a single battle, only to be challenged by Pharaoh or his ilk again in the future; on the contrary, He is now seen to transcend and direct any and all material forces, human or otherwise, and His kingship is therefore acknowledged as absolute.

We now understand why, whenever the Exodus is mentioned in our liturgy, the downfall of Pharaoh is emphasized alongside the salvation of Israel. There are numerous instances of this, but one that immediately comes to mind is in the blessing that follows the Shema each morning:

From Egypt did You redeem us, Hashem, our God; from the house of slaves you freed us. All of their firstborn did You kill, and Your firstborn, Israel, did You redeem, and You split the sea for them - the wicked You drowned, and the beloved ones passed through the sea; water covered their oppressors, not one of them was left.

It is not enough, then, to recognize the greatness of Hashem and His majesty alongside that of man; if our redemption is to be complete, we must become fully cognizant of the futility of human dominion in the Universe, and utterly reject the validity of any alternative to the service of our Creator. We do not simply choose the worship of Hashem as a good among other possible goods; on the contrary, we consider all other purported "options" illusory.

This attitude is captured beautifully in the closing verse of the first chapter of Tehillim:

For Hashem knows the way of the righteous, and the way of the wicked will be destroyed.

This, then, is the importance of the seventh day of Pesah and the splitting of the sea that occurred on it. The plagues that led to the Exodus, and the commandments the Jews were required to perform before their release from bondage, were all designed to provide the Jewish people with the education they needed to be ready to respond to Hashem's directives. The plagues convinced them of the reality of Hashem's existence and the overwhelming power of His governance, and their participation in the Paschal sacrifice demonstrated their commitment to His service. During the first six days of Pesah, we explore and attempt to internalize these themes.

The splitting of the sea, on the other hand, was not intended to establish the basic reality of Hashem and His providence but to show that there is no other reasonable basis for a meaningful and fulfilling life - whatever seems to offer such a basis is, ultimately, a house of cards waiting to be toppled. Commemorating the splitting of the sea on the Seventh Day of Pesah completes our acknowledgement of God's sovereignty by reminding us that "the way of the wicked will be destroyed"; it underscores not only our acceptance of Hashem's kingship (already manifest on the first six days of Pesah) but our absolute rejection of any humanly crafted alternative.

Thus, it is only on the Seventh Day of Pesah that we declare, once and for all, that "Hashem will reign for all eternity."

(Incidentally, we can also see from this analysis why the Seventh Day is not a completely independent holiday - it is still "Pesah", does not require a separate sheheyanu blessing, etc., because it is meant to further develop and round out our reflection upon the theme of Hashem's sovereignty introduced on the First Day of Pesah. It doesn't add any fundamentally new content to the Yom Tov.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Seventh Day of Pesah I

Why does the Torah require us to celebrate the Seventh Day of Pesah as a distinct holiday with a prohibition of work, festival prayers, etc.? This seems like a reasonable question (albeit in retrospect) since the Torah provides no explicit account of its purpose.

Over Yom Tov, I delivered two derashot (speeches) in which I offered independent - although I believe complementary, rather than mutually exclusive - explanations for the institution of the seventh day of Pesah. I will present them here as a series of two posts, and then perhaps a final summary in which I plan to explore their relationship to one another.

There is a curious verse in Parashat Re'eh that we read on the final day of Pesah in the Diaspora:

Six days shall you eat Matsot; on the seventh day it is a day of assembly/rest (i.e., atseret) to Hashem, your God; you shall do no work.

This is certainly a strange statement, and for more than one reason.

First of all, the prohibition of consuming hametz - generally expressed in the positive form, "eating matsot" - extends to the seventh day of Passover as well; it is not restricted to the first six days as the verse would seem to imply. We know this from another passuq in Parashat Bo:

On the fourteenth day of the month in the evening you shall eat matsot, until the twenty first day of the month (i.e., the seventh day of Pesah), in the evening.

A second difficulty with our verse is its structure. It evokes associations to the description of Shabbat in the Torah "six days shall you do work, but on the seventh day you shall rest", or of the Sabbatical year "six years shall you sow your field and gather its produce, but during the seventh year you shall release it and abandon it." However, in this case, not working is not the opposite of eating matsah; there is no reason to mention eating matsot in the verse at all. The Torah could simply have stated, "on the seventh day, it shall be a day of assembly to Hashem, your God; you shall do no work."

I believe that this unusual passuq contains a profound idea. The Torah continually addresses us on both a physical and an intellectual plane. Oftentimes, as in the case of abstaining from hametz, the Torah directs or stimulates our minds through the framework of the physical. However, the Torah never establishes a purely material state or performance as an end in its own right.

If Pesah were to conclude with six days of Hol Hamoed and no final "atseret" holiday, a key component of the objective of the Yom Tov would not be achieved. We would be going through physical motions that failed to culminate in intellectual or moral enlightenment. There would be a change of habits of eating, solidified over seven days' time, but no corresponding opportunity for reflection on the real meaning of that change.

This is why the Torah had to create the seventh day of Pesah - it is a day for contemplating and internalizing the lessons and implications of our separation from hametz, a day for connecting the physical experience of the holiday - what feels like the essential experience, for most people - back to the fundamental themes and principles we articulated at our Sedarim on the first days of Pesah.

Now we can better understand the verse with which we opened our inquiry:

"For six days you shall eat matsot" - that is, you shall engage in a physical action/abstention, beginning with the Seder of the first night of Pesah, but extending five days beyond it and preserving a measure of its holiness for the duration of an otherwise mundane week.

"And on the seventh day it is an atseret to Hashem, your God, you shall do no work" - that is, on the seventh day you must elevate yourselves even further than you already have through your period of abstention from hametz; you must remove yourselves, not only from certain foods, but from the workaday mindset altogether. This way you can consecrate your time and energy to reflection upon the deeper significance of the hametz-free existence you have maintained, and you can walk away from the holiday both edified and inspired.

In a subsequent post, I will explore an alternative reason for the institution of the seventh day of Pesah and then, hopefully, we will see how the two approaches are interconnected.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pesah, Sukkot and Sefirat HaOmer

As I have discussed in several earlier posts, the two seven-day festivals instituted by the Torah, Pesah and Sukkot, both address elements of our physical existence. Pesah changes our staple food from conventional bread to matsah. Sukkot alters our dwelling from a permanent house to a Sukkah. Both holidays are also followed up by one-day celebrations that revolve around the intellectual or spiritual dimension of Jewish life - Shavuot and Shemini Atseret, respectively.

One of the unusual features of Pesah is the "intrusion" of the counting of the Omer. Immediately after the first day of Passover, we begin the process of moving toward Shavuot. We don't even wait for the seven day festival to conclude before setting our sights on the next holiday in the calendar. Indeed, the Torah commands us to harvest the Omer offering - and, hence, to begin the count - right after the holiday, on the "morrow of the rest day". This is taken to mean that we should not even wait until the next morning; harvesting and counting start as soon as the first day of the festival is over. What is the rush? Why can't we complete the celebration of Pesah before hastily transferring our focus to Shavuot?

The noteworthy starting point of the Omer count highlights a more general quality of Pesah as contrasted with Sukkot. Sukkot is the epitome of a joyous holiday in the Torah. Every one of its seven days has a distinct set of sacrifices that are to be offered. We say a blessing each time we dwell in the Sukkah. The four species are taken every day with a blessing and full Hallel is recited for the duration of the holiday. The Jewish people are, at least ideally, bidden to remain in Jerusalem and "celebrate before Hashem for seven days". The eighth day, Shemini Atseret, ushers in a whole new level of holiness that warrants a distinct sacrificial order, special blessings, prayers and an additional element of joy.

In the case of Pesah, on the other hand, all of the positive mitsvot - the paschal sacrifice, eating matsah and maror, telling the story of the Exodus and reciting the full Hallel - are fulfilled on the first night and day of the festival. Thereafter, observance of Pesah manifests itself only as the abstention from hametz for the entire week. The sacrifices offered in the Temple on the seven days of Pesah are all identical. The Jewish people are not especially encouraged to remain in Jerusalem after the first day of the holiday; indeed, the Torah states (with regard to the Paschal sacrifice) "and you shall roast it and eat it in the place that Hashem, your God, will choose, and in the morning you may turn back and return to your tents. For six days shall you eat matsot and on the seventh day shall be a day of assembly dedicated to Hashem, your God; you shall do no work." The implication is clear that, unlike the days of Sukkot, the final six days of Pesah are of lesser significance than the first. Even the seventh day, with its prohibition of work, does not have its own identity, blessings or special sacrificial order; it is more like a day of Hol Hamoed that has been promoted than a bona fide holiday in its own right.

What is the reason for the stark contrast between the respective structures of Pesah and Sukkot? And how can this explain our premature commencement of the counting of the Omer?

I believe that Pesah and Sukkot represent two opposite orientations to the material world. Pesah is about breaking our attachments and addictions to the luxuries of physical life. We distance ourselves from idolatry through the Paschal sacrifice and embrace matsah, the bread of servitude, as our staple food. In essence, though, our observance of the holiday is reflected in the negative, through privation. We define ourselves on Pesah by what we are not - we are not Egyptian sheep-worshippers. We are not hedonistic pleasure-seekers. We are prepared, by virtue of our disentanglement from these alternative lifestyles, to begin the process of receiving the Torah and serving Hashem.

This is why the first day of Pesah stands apart from the remaining days. It is on the first day that, through sacrificing the Pesah offering and adopting matsah as our bread, we clearly demonstrate our non-Egyptian character as a nation and our readiness to pursue a transcendent purpose. The six subsequent days make the impact of this demonstration manifest, but do not contribute anything to its content. Our observance of Pesah consists, then, in a major "event" on the first day, followed by mere abstention from hametz for the other six.

This fits beautifully with the lesson of another fascinating verse in the Torah that I have addressed on this blog in the past, "do not eat on it [the Paschal sacrifice] hametz; for seven days you shall eat matsot - the bread of affliction - on it." We are only permitted to eat the Paschal sacrifice on the first night of Passover. Why does the Torah command us to eat matsah "on it" - that is to say, with the Paschal offering - all seven days? The answer is simple. The Torah means to draw our attention to the fact that by abstaining from hametz/eating matsah seven days, we are carrying the message of the Pesah offering forward; it is still with us, we are still reacting to it. The revelation of Hashem's presence represented by the sacrifice has inspired us to take up the bread of servitude but to devote our energies to the service of the true King - Hashem - rather than the service of man.

We can now see why Pesah seems to stop short after the first day; as soon as it no longer expresses itself in positive activity, it no longer warrants full Hallel, new sacrifices, special blessings or an extended stay in Jerusalem. There is nothing novel to be had on the subsequent days, only a continuation and consolidation of what has already, at least essentially, been accomplished. Even the seventh day, which commemorates the splitting of the Sea, really just drives home the principle of the futility of the worship of human beings and/or idols and the ultimate sovereignty of Hashem. It is a reflection back on the implications of the Exodus and the significance of our week-long observance of the holiday rather than the introduction of any new theme.

Sukkot, on the other hand, is about establishing a home in the framework of service of Hashem. Unlike Pesah, which is about extricating ourselves and moving upward and away from materialism, Sukkot is about transitioning downward from the transcendence of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to the gritty realities of life. This is no simple matter; living in the Sukkah day by day brings us ever closer to the ideal of integration and harmony of the material and intellectual elements within us. Our success in progressing toward this ideal is celebrated joyously on Shemini Atseret.

Because every day of Sukkot embodies another stage of progress toward a desired goal, every day has its own sacrifical service, a full Hallel, Lulav and Etrog, etc. The joy of Sukkot extends to all seven days, waxing rather than waning as we build up to the culmination of the process on Shemini Atseret. Unlike Pesah, which expresses itself in the creation and sustaining of a negative (i.e., the avoidance of hametz), Sukkot is a holiday full of constructive and positive commandments, where every day is a milestone worthy of celebration.

This approach to Pesah can also help us explain why we begin counting to Shavuot as soon as the first day of Pesah is concluded. The break away from Egypt leaves us in an intellectual and moral vacuum; we know what we are not, but the mitsvot of Pesah do not provide us with the means to express what we are. For this, we must wait for Shavuot, the occasion of the giving of the Torah. So even as we are still abstaining from hametz to demonstrate the pervasive impact of the message of the first day of Pesah on our lives and households, we are simultaneously preparing ourselves, day after day, to stand at Mount Sinai as true servants of Hashem. The latter six days of Pesah form a part of this transformation, but six more weeks are necessary before we ascend to the pinnacle of spiritual development commemorated on Shavuot. And the desire to fill our inner emptiness with Torah substance is so powerful that we cannot help but initiate our countdown to Shavuot as soon as the first day of Pesah is over!

Hag Kasher V'Sameah to all. After the holiday, I hope to further expand on some of these themes.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

How Does Eruv Tavshilin Work?

In principle, it would be prohibited to prepare food on Yom Tov for consumption on Shabbat. To circumvent this restriction, the Rabbis instituted Eruv Tavshilin. Whenever a holiday falls out on a Friday - or, as in our case, Thursday and Friday - we take a piece of bread (matzah) and a cooked dish (oftentimes a hard boiled egg) before the holiday begins. We recite the blessing and eruv declaration and set the food aside for Shabbat use. It is said that, in this way, we demonstrate that we have commenced our preparations for Shabbat prior to Yom Tov. This permits us, in effect, to complete those preparations on the holiday itself.

On the surface, it is not clear what this legal fiction really accomplishes. After all, in the final analysis, we will be cooking and toiling on Friday, a Yom Tov, for the sake of Shabbat, in contradiction to the essential halakha that forbids such activity. What do we gain from this apparently contrived "solution"?

An answer to this difficulty can be gleaned from the Rambam. In the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam codifies the laws of Eruv Tavshilin in the sixth chapter of the Laws of Yom Tov. Strangely, however, he changes the topic of the chapter midstream, in halakha 15, and begins expounding upon the mitzvot to honor Yom Tov and rejoice therein. What is the connection between the technical performance of Eruv Tavshilin and the commandment to celebrate on the Holidays? (Incidentally, this unusual juxtaposition is not only found in the Rambam's presentation. The Talmud, in the very beginning of second chapter of Masekhet Betzah, also discusses the laws of rejoicing on Yom Tov in the midst of its exploration of the laws of Eruv Tavshilin.)

It seems that when Yom Tov falls out on Erev Shabbat we are faced with a unique conundrum. On one hand, Friday is generally the day that the Torah designates as a time of preparation for Shabbat. A double portion of Manna fell for the Jews in the wilderness on Friday and they were commanded "it is Shabbat, a holy day of rest unto Hashem, tomorrow - so whatever you will bake, bake now; whatever you will cook, cook now; whatever is left over, save for the morning."

On the other hand, Yom Tov is a day of rejoicing - a day when, by definition, one should not be preoccupied with preparations for anything else. One's mind and heart should be fully engaged with the thematic content and spirit of the holiday. So, in a certain sense, a Friday Holiday is an inherent contradiction in terms - it is a Yom Tov, a day good in its own right and worthy of its own recognition, but is simultaneously a Friday, a day designated to serve the needs of Shabbat observance.

This, I believe, is the basis for the concept of Eruv Tavshilin. Were we to begin our Shabbat cooking and preparation on Friday, we would be implying that this particular Friday, like all others, is a vehicle for Shabbat and not a time of sanctity in its own right. The Eruv Tavshilin reminds us that, while we are permitted to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat, that cooking should be seen as a secondary activity, an afterthought, as it were, and not as the main event of the day.

It is of no moment that we do more work for Shabbat on Yom Tov, quantitatively speaking, than we did before Yom Tov. The point is that the requirement to commence food preparation in advance defines the activity on Yom Tov as the completion of a process begun beforehand. Were we to begin cooking from scratch on Yom Tov for Shabbat, this would serve to establish the very identity of the day as a day of preparation. Beginning Shabbat preparations before Yom Tov makes the statement that the work we do on Yom Tov for Shabbat is not a reflection of any change in the essential nature of Yom Tov and should not be seen as compromising its sanctity. We are merely "finishing up" pre-Yom Tov chores on the Holiday.

This explains why the Rambam linked Eruv Tavshilin to the mitzvah of celebrating on Yom Tov. Celebration on Yom Tov is tied to the fact that we view it as a day of holiness and significance in its own right. This significance can be diminished when Yom Tov falls out on Friday and is "hijacked" by the demands of Shabbat preparation. If we relate to the Friday Holiday as little more than a period set aside for Shabbat cooking, this will undermine our ability to genuinely celebrate it.

The impact of such a breakdown would not be limited to the Yom Tov that happens to fall out on Friday. Indeed, the Rabbis were concerned that permitting cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbat could compromise people's esteem for Yom Tov across the board, even when it is observed in the middle of the week. The very fact that Yom Tov can occasionally be instrumental in serving the needs of another day - Shabbat or otherwise - could detract from its importance, sanctity, and joyousness in the eyes of the population at large.

This is where Eruv Tavshilin comes in and "redeems" the joyous quality of Yom Tov. Eruv Tavshilin conceptually transforms the cooking that will take place on Friday into the legal equivalent of an afterthought. This, in turn, underscores and emphasizes the independent significance of Yom Tov, even when it falls out on Friday. As a result of fulfilling the Rabbis' commandment of Eruv Tavshilin, the character of Yom Tov as a time of rejoicing - regardless of the day of the week on which it is celebrated - is preserved and reinforced.

I have more to say about this general area, and further related sources on which to comment, but I will have to save it for Hol Hamoed!

Hag Kasher V'Sameah.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Is Birkat HaChamma A Farce?

There has been much recent discussion, in the J-Blogosphere and elsewhere, of the rare and fascinating Birkat Hachamma or "Blessing of the Sun" that will be performed Wednesday morning. The very fact that this blessing is recited only once in a generation - just a single time every twenty-eight years - is enough to awaken broad interest in its significance. But there is a more fundamental issue preoccupying and even vexing contemporary Jews as they approach this ritual.

To put it bluntly, the astronomical calculations upon which the recitation of Birkat Hachamma is based, which were formulated by the Talmudic sage Shmuel, are now known to be seriously inaccurate. Some rabbis and laypersons have even gone so far as to suggest, as a result of this flaw, that the observance of Birkat Hachamma be discontinued altogether.

A survey of the halakhic literature, however, reveals that the discovery of the limitations of Shmuel's proposed 28-year cosmic cycle predates our era by millenia. Yet this did not prevent our Rabbis from instructing their students to recite the blessing. Indeed, Rabbi Bleich, in his seminal work on Birkat Hachamma that was recently reissued, notes that the Amora Rav Adda, who lived in the same period as Shmuel, introduced a more precise calendrical model that became the foundation for the current Jewish calendar instituted by Hillel II. This means that subsequent generations of scholars were surely aware of the difficulties with Shmuel's model, but did not refrain from reciting Birkat Hachamma as a result.

Rabbi Bleich suggests (and cites numerous sources to the effect) that Shmuel himself, in all likelihood, recognized the approximate nature of his formula but promoted it because of its sheer simplicity and its accessibility to the average person. Moreover, the Rambam, whose astronomy would have been far superior to that of the Talmudic Rabbis and who was certainly aware of the inaccuracies in Shmuel's calculation, nonetheless endorses and codifies the traditional practice of Birkat Hachamma in his Mishneh Torah.

This again indicates that knowledge of the disparity between the twenty-eight year cycle and empirical reality was not considered a legitimate reason to abandon Birkat Hachamma. So the question becomes - why not? If we are reciting a blessing in response to an astronomical phenomenon that is imaginary, aren't we taking God's name in vain?

I believe that there is an important concept at work in the formulation of Birkat Hachamma that is worthy of further exploration. Knowledge of the true principles of Maaseh Beresheet, the lawful and harmonious material universe, is, ultimately, beyond our intellectual capacity. The cycles of the macrocosm - the stars, comets, constellations and even the sun - are so vast and complex as to be nearly unfathomable to us.

Yet halakha is undeterred and creates institutions that reflect these elusive and intricate phenomena in plain human terms. We observe Shabbat every seventh 24-hour day, even though few of us believe that the seven "days" described in Genesis were literal days. We sanctify the new moon, utilize it as the basis for our calendar, etc., despite the fact that our calculations in this respect fall short of scientific precision.

The point here is that the objective of halakha is not to present the empirical realities of the universe as they are; it is designed, instead, to translate those realities into a form that is comprehensible to the average human being in search of knowledge. Thus, our version of Shabbat, while it doesn't do justice to the culmination of primordial six 'days' of creation by any means, nonetheless directs our minds to the contemplation of the Creator through reflection on His magnificent handiwork. And it goes without saying that promoting a "realistic" Shabbat, marked once every several billion years, would have little impact on human existence altogether. It would not inspire, educate or sanctify our lives at all, despite being more "accurate".

The same, I maintain, is true of Birkat Hachamma. The idea behind the blessing is to underscore the notion that there are discernible and predictable cycles of motion at the macro level of the universe. This is a very valuable truth to highlight in general, and would be especially poignant in an idolatrous culture that tended to deify the sun rather than perceive it as manifesting a pattern determined by abstract scientific laws.

The problem is that the actual, empirical cycle of the sun's motion is incalculably vast. Indeed, were we to adopt the relatively more accurate calendrical model of Rav Adda (which still has substantial flaws), we would discover that the vernal equinox has, since creation, never again fallen out on a Tuesday night (i.e., a Wednesday) at 6PM. It is the conjunction of the equinox with the time of the creation of the sun in Genesis that gives rise to Birkat Hachamma and, according to Rav Adda's calendar, this event has not repeated itself even once in the last 5769 years!

The calendar of Shmuel, on the other hand, yields the 28 year cosmic cycle that forms the basis for the blessing. It seems likely that Shmuel's calculations were accepted for this purpose despite their widely recognized inaccuracies simply because they offered us the opportunity of Birkat Hachamma like no other methods of calculation did. Our ultimate goal in this berakha is not to establish or to endorse a particular vision of empirical reality. Instead, we seek to emphasize a grander, more essential concept; namely, that the physical world continually manifests orderly patterns of Divine design, whatever the specifics of those patterns may be. This is fully consistent with our observance of Shabbat and our approach to the sanctification of the New Moon - in all instances, we are less concerned with the details of the material world's operation and more focused on conveying the notion that an intelligible order, only partially accessible to the human mind, permeates Creation.

So as we recite the blessing and acknowledge this important fundamental principle, we also bear in mind the limitations of our finite existence and our inherent inability to genuinely grasp or articulate the majestic cycles of the universe in human terms. We bless on an artificially tweaked version of the cosmic revolutions because that is the best version to which imperfect beings like ourselves can possibly relate!