Breaking radio silence to report on Birkat HaChama
And here it is!
The one thing that was really nice was what Rabbi Seth Farber said before we began the blessing and Psalms that surround it. He noted that Passover is about a particularistic national redemption, while blessing the creator of the sun transcends nationality and is about what we all share as inhabitants of the same planet. He said that this Pesach, while celebrating our particularistic redemption from slavery we Egypt, we ought to keep in mind the rest of the world, and hope for its redemption from slavery and suffering to freedom, as well. I thought that the contrast between the particularism of Pesach and the generality of blessing God for creating the sun was a nice touch, and one I hadn't heard before.
Here are some recent New York Times articles on the subject--oh, how I miss my New York Times! (Despite this, which one of my friends was complaining about, and rightly so.)
"A Jewish Holiday, Once Every 28 Years," by Samuel G. Freedman (NYT, April 3, 2009)
"For Jews, Another 28 Years, Another Blessing of the Sun," by Joyce Cohen (NYT, April 6, 2009)
I also need to take a minute to complain about chametz-burning here in Israel. What is it with people throwing plastic bags into the fire? Don't they know that it's bad for the environment, it stinks, and it doesn't burn well? Also, that it's halachically entirely unnecessary?
People also burn all kinds of things that don't need to be burned or even thrown out or given away (rice noodles?!). I saw someone throw chametz inside a plastic peanut butter jar into the fire--why? A woman came by and shouted at the chametz-and-plastic-burners, but only about all of the smoke they were making--איזה חוצפה! she shouted--to be making these fires on an empty lot after everyone in the nearby houses had worked so hard cleaning their houses for Pesach. She had a good point. We live several blocks away and it smelled bad this morning. The fires would be much smaller and less ghastly if they consisted of: wood and chametz. Okay, and a few dried up old lulavs if you want. But because they are poorly constructed (bread is underneath; burning newspaper and cardboard boxes on top), they also contain piles of burning plastic bags and mountains of newspapers and cardboard boxes. Most of the bread was getting toasted, at best.
Some photos of Birkat HaChama gatherings in Raanana this morning are below.
That said, I think that those who said it at sunrise probably had a much more powerful experience than I did.
Oh, I never even considered the idea that people would simply be too lazy to take the chametz out of the plastic bags. I just assumed that people would be worried about getting every little last crumb into that fire.
You're probably right--they're just lazy.
I'm honestly not sure which is worse!