Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cosmic Coincidence

There was an article titled “Five Cosmic Cups” in this weeks 5 Towns Jewish Times which attempted to defend the idea (attributed here to the Rebbe of Ostrovtza) that Birchas Hachamah had only occurred on Erev Pesach twice before, the year of yetzias Mitzrayim and the year of the Purim story. Like many articles in this sometimes-entertaining paper, this one bugged me.

The article begins by saying it is obvious that birchas hachmah has come out on erev Pesach many times – even in the “year in which the Rebbe’s remarks were made… so surely his remarks cannot be taken at face value.” It states that “the Rebbe must have been either misquoted or misunderstood.” Certainly either is a possibility, but the author ignores a third possibility – the Rebbe may have simply been mistaken.

The author goes on to speculate that “what the Rebbe meant to teach us was that the experience of birchas hachamah on erev Pesach was an event of massive cosmic significance, signaling a dramatic leap forward in the history of mankind akin to the Exodus and the events of Purim.” A nice thought, but then why didn’t the Rebbe just say so?

He then lists the dates when birchas hachamah and Erev Pesach coincided in order to show that they match up with significant historical events. He goes on to state that birchas hachamah on erev Pesach occurred eleven years before yetzias Mitzrayim, and again eighteen years after the settling of Eretz Yisroel. At first I didn’t understand what his point was. If it had happened the same year as these events, that would be interesting, but a margin of error of nearly two decades? Then I realized that he meant it occurred within those twenty-eight-year birchas hachamah cycles. However because the first birchas hachamah mentioned occurred eleven years before the event and the other eighteen years after, that means he is using a fifty-six year window to find significant events to match to occurrences of birchas hachamah on Erev Pesach. I think that one could find some significant event in any fifty-six year period.

Let’s try a random year, say, 1420. That gives us from 1392 through the 1448 to find a significant historical event. A few minutes searching on Google shows that Johannes Gutenberg was born around 1400 and printed the famous Gutenberg Bible around 1450. This is slightly beyond our cutoff date, but for the bible to have been printed then he surely must have invented his moveable-type press before then, which would be within the timeframe. The invention of moveable type is one of the most significant events in history, and led to an unprecedented availability of knowledge.

That wasn’t hard. And I really did pick 1420 randomly. Finding important events around birchas hachamah with this much of a margin isn’t any more “cosmic.” Now, if something significant happened on the same year, or better yet, on the same day every time birchas hachamah came out on Erev Pesach, that would be interesting.


  1. >and again eighteen years after the settling of Eretz Yisroel

    The point in this kind of hype is to rile the troops up, make them daven extra hard for than one morning, or to change their bahavior for the imminent coming of the meshiach. Now if we're going backwards, then after the fact (if nothing cosmic occurs soon), we can claim the event was Gush, the Lebanon war, R. Shach dying. Or BHB starting a blog.

    It's all so silly.

  2. "Or BHB starting a blog"

    That's it! Cosmic mystery solved.

  3. You actually got a particularly bad random year to start with since there isn't much in the way of Jewish history happening in that time. If one wanted to pick almost another other time period one could easily get major events. For example, in 1478 the Spanish inquisition started (it would not be for a few years that it would apply to Jews). And in the 1480s the first printed siddurim were made.

    Meanwhile, in the mid 1300s Jews are formally invited to settle in what would become Poland.

    (This is off the top of my head so the exact dates aren't given)