|Tractate Berachot, Chapter 6
[A person] that sees2 the sun,3 the moon,4 the planets5 and the constellations6 says [the following Beracha (blessing):] Baruch [Ata Hashem Eloheinu Melech Haolam] Oseh Bereishit.7 Rebbi Yehudah says, “[If] a person says a Beracha on the sun, [he follows] a foreign way.”8 And also9 Rebbi Yehudah used to say, “[If a person] sees the sea10 constantly and [then suddenly] something changed in it,11 he needs to say a Beracha [on seeing the sea].”12
מסכת ברכות פרק ו
הרואה את החמה ואת הלבנה ואת הכוכבים ואת המזלות אומר ברוך עושה בראשית. רבי יהודה אומר המברך על החמה הרי זו דרך אחרת. וכן היה רבי יהודה אומר הרואה את הים תמיד ונשתנה בו דבר צריך לברך.
- Mishna 2 of chapter 9 says that a person must say a Beracha of Oseh Maaseh Bereishit on various natural phenomena. The Tosefta adds additional phenomena to that law. Also the Mishna mentions the opinion of Rebbi Yehudah regarding saying the Beracha upon seeing the sea after a period of time of not seeing it. Our Tosefta mentions an additional opinion of Rebbi Yehudah regarding saying the Beracha on the sea.
- Mishna 9:2 says that if a person sees mountains, rivers, seas or deserts a person needs to say a Beracha upon seeing them. The reason is, because they are an impressive natural phenomena and God should be praised for creating them. Neither Talmud explains how often these Berachot should be said. From the language of the Mishna it may be assumed that the Beracha should be said every day if a person sees something impressive as a big river or big mountains. A similar implication can be made from this Tosefta that a person says a Beracha upon seeing the sun, the moon, the stars and the constellations every day. The Tosefta does not clarify any particular specific time when to say the Beracha. However the Beraita that is quoted in Talmud Bavli (Berachot 59b) and in Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachot 9:2, Daf 65a) although it sounds like this Tosefta it has a lot of additional words in it, which clarify that this Beracha should not be said every day, but rather at specific times when the sun, the moon, the stars, and the constellations are in a certain position in the sky. Most probably the Beraita quoted in both Talmuds is not this Tosefta, but rather a different Beraita. Since it is unclear how often this Beracha should be said based on the Tosefta I will explain each phenomena according to the explanation given in both Talmuds, however the reader should keep in mind that the Tosefta may not be referring to any particular phenomena and instead require this Beracha to be said every day whenever a person sees these celestial objects.
- Talmud Bavli (Berachot 59b) explains that the Beracha on the sun is made once every 28 years on the vernal equinox, widely known as Birkat Hachama or Kiddush Hachama. The reason as explained by the Talmud is because that is the initial position of the sun in the sky when it was originally created. This is of course a very problematic explanation for a variety of reasons, since it relies on the inexact Julian calendar, geocentric theory (that the Earth is the center of the universe and the sun revolved around it) and assumes that the the solar system was created initially in the exact shape and form as it appears today, despite the fact that the Torah says that the swun was created on the 4th day of creation, even though the word “day” cannot be meant literally since the whole meaning of a day is defined by the Earth revolving aroud itselfand the sun shining on it, so how is it possible that there were 3 days before the existence of the sun. It is beyond the scope of this work to go into all of the problems of such an explanation. For further details about the issues of Kiddush Hachama see Gil Student, Ezzie Goldish. “A Bloggers’ Guide to Birkas Ha-Chamah.” Scribd. http://www.scribd.com/doc/13641324/Birkas-HaChamah. Accessed on August 5, 2009.
- This Beracha on the moon should not be confused with the Beracha made on the new moon every month known as Kiddush Levana. Kiddush Levana is a completely different Beracha on a different phenomenon, since Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachot 9:2, Daf 65a) lists it as a separate Beracha. Unfortunately neither Talmud explains what kind of phenomena regarding the moon is referred to by the Beraita that they quote. There are various opinions among the Rishonim (Medieval commentators) regarding to which phenomena is referred to here. The Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 10:18) explains that the Beraita is referring to the position of the moon in the beginning of the month in the zodiac sign of Aries (the Ram) which is region of the celestial sphere from 0 – 30 degrees, based on the Babylonian/Greek system of the zodiac, known as the Ptolemaic tropical zodiac. The constellation of Aries appears in the East in the middle of the night. This boundary should not be confused with the constellation boundaries as defined in 1930 by the International Astronomical Union, which greatly vary in size. The Rambam adds that when the moon is in this position it is in the beginning of the constelation of Aries and is not leaning to the north or to the south. Based on the Rambam’s description I have simulated this position of the moon in Astronomical software Starry Night. From the observer’s position in Jerusalem the moon appears in Aries only in some months, mostly in the fall. An example of such occurrence is shown below, which will be on the night of September 9, 2009, which is the 20th of Elul, 5769. This particular occurrence of the moon in Aries does not occur in the beginning of the lunar month, because it falls out on the 20th of Elul. However since the position of the zodiac constellations rotates eventually it will fall out in the beginning of the lunar month. When the moon is in Aries it appears to be either in East or in the West, directly in between North and South.
It is difficult to understand what is so special about the moon appearing in the constellation of Aries that it should deserve a special Beracha. I would assume that due to this problem other Rishonim argue on the Rambam and say that all the Beraita is talking aout is a regular full moon that occurs every month or other moon positions. For a summary of various opinions see the commentary on the Rambam by Rabeinu Manoach (Mishna Torah, Frankel edition, Berachot 10:18, Keshetachzor Halevana).
- The Hebrew word Kochavim literally means “stars”, however it can also mean planets. Since neither Talmud explains what phenomena is the Beraita referring to, the Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 10:18) chose to explain it to mean planets and not stars. He says that the Beraita is referring to the astronomical phenomenon when the 5 visible planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter) line up and appear in the constellation of Aries without leaning to the North or the South. The last occurrence when all of these plabnets were visible simultaneously happened on April 2 – 4, 2004, where Mercury was located in Aries and the other four planets followed it in a line although they were in other constellations. The next occurrence when all five planets will be visible again simultaneously will be in April 2036, so this is a truly rare occurrence. I do not know what the Rambam means by the planets not leaning to the North or to the South, since together they span the whole width of the sky, as can be seen on the Starry Night software simulation below.
I doubt that the Rambam is referring to a very close alignment of the planets since such an occurrence happens only once in a few thousand years. A very close alignment of the naked-eye planets took place on February 27th, 1953 B.C., in which these five planets were together in a span of 4.3 degrees. No closer alignment has taken place since then. On September 8th of 2040, a fairly close alignment within a space of 9.3 degrees will be observed. What the Rambam probably means is that when the five planets are visible they line up across the center of the visible sky and not on the edges, as can be seen on the picture above.
- The reference to the constellations is very unclear. The Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 10:18) says that it is referring to the constellation of Aries rising from the East, because since it is the first constellation in the zodiac it lines up all of the other constellations from the beginning. Such an occurrence happens roughly once a year. The simulation from the Starry Night software shows that when observed from Jerusalem Aries will rise from the East roughly during the whole month of October, 2009 and will do so again in October of every year for approximately the next 100 years, before it will shift to another month.
- ברוך אתה ה’ אלוהינו מלך העולם עושה בראשית – Blessed You Hashem, our God, King of the world, Who performs creation. This is the same Beracha as that Oseh Maaseh Bereishit (Who performs the deed of creation). The Tosefta simply quotes a slightly different version of it than that in the Talmud Bavli.
- Since in ancient times sun was a very common item of pagan worship, including among the Romans and Greeks, Rebbi Yehudah felt that it was inappropriate to make a Beracha on any phenomena that has to do anything with the sun, since it may appear to look like the Jews worshipping the sun. It seems Rebbi Yehudah was not concerned so much about the Berachot on the moon and the planets, although in Greek and Roman paganism all of them had gods and goddesses associated with them. It is possible that public worship of the sun during the Talmudic times in in the Land of Israel was more wide spread than public worship of the moon and other planets and that is why Rebbi Yehudah felt that only the Beracha on the sun is inappropriate, but not on the moon and other planets, although this is not really clear.
- Mishna Berachot 9:2 mentions the opinion of Rebbi Yehudah who says that a person should say the Beracha upon seeing the Mediteranean sea if he sees it from time to time. Talmud Bavli (Berachot 59b) explains that from time to time means once in 30 days. However our Tosefta adds that Rebbi Yehudah also said that even if the person sees the sea every day and suddenly there is something different about it then he should say the Beracha on the sea anyway. I think that is why the Tosefta specifically uses the word “also” to emphasize that Rebbi Yehudah requires to say the Beracha for a visual change in the sea, even if the person sees it all the time.
- From the wording of the Mishna (Berachot 9:2) the sea that Rebbi Yehudah is talking about is specifically the Mediteranean Sea. In Hebrew it is called Hayam Hagadol (The Great Sea). The word ים (Yam) is used to refer to both seas and lakes, since Hebrew does not have a designated word for a lake. The word אגם (Agam) is usually meant to refer to a swamp as opposed to a regular lake. I think what is different about the Mediteranean Sea from all other bodies of water in Israel that it requires a special Beracha is that it is the only one where a person looking from the shore cannot see the other side. The horizon line falls out in the middle of the sea. Where as Lake Kinneret and Dead Sea are small enough to be able to see the opposite shoreline from either end. I don’t think the Rabbis were very familiar with the Red Sea since Eilat in Talmudic times was not really a place where they lived. Based on this logic the Beracha on the sea would apply to any body of water where the observer cannot see the opposite shoreline, even if technically it is a lake, such as the Great Lakes in America and the Caspian Sea in Asia.
- It is not clear from the Tosefta what kind of change it is talking about. It is possible that it is referring to the difference between the way a calm sea and a stormy sea looks due to the waves. It is also possible that the color of water may be different, some times it is blue and some times it is green due to the presence of particular seaweeds. Commentary on the Tosefta, Higayon Aryeh suggests that it is referring to the tides. If a person always happens to look at the sea when the tide is low and then one day he sees it when the tide is high he would need to say this Beracha.
- The Beracha for seeing the sea is mentioned in Mishna 9:2.ברוך אתה ה’ אלוהינו מלך העולם שעשה את הים הגדול – Blessed You Hashem, our God, King of the world, Who has made the Great Sea.
The audio shiur on Berachot chapter 6 is online on the Audio page. Masechta Berachot audio has been completed.