Teachings of the Summer Sun

Recently my father and I went to Coney Island, saw the walruses, jellyfish and sea lions at the aquarium, walked on the boardwalk, ate ice cream, and baked in the hot sun. It was a healing day: one of the slowest I can remember. Even the Brooklyn traffic didnít bother me. Thereís something about summer that slows down the mind and body long enough to allow some rest and cure the anxieties of life, even for a few hours.

At the summer solstice (here in the north half of the world), the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator, and the northern hemisphere of the earth is tilted toward the sunís light. While weíre being bathed in this light, the Talmud says, we have no shadow. Itís almost a moment of merging with the sunís rays. Some cultures believe (as the Celts did) that the sun begins to die on this day. For others (the Slavic peoples) this is the height of the sunís power. Either way, the solstice lasts only a moment. Itís up to us to soak up the sun in whatever spiritual or (safe) physical way we can.

The Bible speaks of the sun as a sign of redemption: ďA sun of righteousness with healing in her wingsĒ (Malachi 3:20). The sun is also described as a ďbridegroom bursting forth from his chamberĒ (Psalms 19:6). In fact, shemesh (sun in Hebrew) is one of those rare words that comes in both genders (like ruach, spirit). It is as if the sun is too powerful to be held down by one image. The sun is a joyful as a bridegroom and as healing as a mother bird settling on her nest.

The sun is ubiquitous in our sky, yet we canít look directly at the sun. Thereís some way the sun embodies the mystery of life. Rabbi Chanina, a Talmudic sage, tells us that one day Godís throne will appear in the sky, and ďwill move from the place where the sun shines in summer to the place where it shines in winter,Ē just as the sun does while the seasons pass. In this story, the sun is an image of the throne of the Divine. Rabbi Chanina offers the following prooftext from the Bible: ďThe Eternal is a sun and a shield, and bestows grace and glory.Ē

In another Talmudic parable, a Roman emperor asks the rabbi how the Divine can be in many places at once. The rabbi uses the sun as an example, asking how the sun can shine on so many places at once. Here, the vast warmth of the sun becomes a metaphor for the all-encompassing infinity of spirit. In fact, a midrash (Genesis Rabbah 6:6) warns that the sunís rays are so bright they could burn up the world, so God has to plunge it into a pool of water every dawn to temper it. The sun goes to mikvah (the ritual bath) every morning before coming to warm us! In fact, in many countries (Argentina, Latvia) there is the custom of immersing in water on the morning of the solstice, and this would not be a bad custom for Jews to adopt as well, in honor of the sunís daily mikvah.

The warmth of the sun also distills itself into plants that can feed and heal us. Recently, I attended one day of the Teva Seminar, a four-day conference on Judaism and the environment (see www.tevacenter.org). I learned how to make herbal tinctures, studied texts on genetic manipulation of species and eco-kabbalah, learned about Jewish environmental projects and camps, and watched folks harvest mint and lavender from the spiral herb garden. The bright sun reminded me of how much it is a resource for us through plant life, solar power, light to see by, and so many other gifts.

The sun can be dangerous: donít stay out in the heat too long, expose your skin to the sunís rays without sunscreen, or gaze directly at the sun. However, it is the hearthfire of our planet and our species, making life on earth possible. So, whether we see it as a manifestation of divine energy or as a fireball that allows us to go on existing, letís honor the sun at this special time of the year, as the miraculous phenomenon it is.

Tel Shemesh is three years old on the solstice! Write us at info@telshemesh.org to wish us a happy birthday and tell us how Tel Shemesh has made an impact on your life. You have all certainly made an impact on Tel Shemesh with your warm wishes, letters, and earthy lives.

Blessings for a Summer Solstice Immersion in a Lake, Stream, Ocean, or Ritual Bath

After the first immersion, to the east:
The blessing for mikvah:

Beruchah at shekhinah, eloteinu ruach haíolam asher kidshatnu bemitzvoteha vetzivatnu al hatevilah.

Blessed are you, Shekhinah, spirit of the world, who has made us holy through your desires and has desired us to immerse.

After the second immersion, to the south:
Blessing for the solstice:

Baruch ata adonai, oseh vereishit.

Blessed are you, Adonai, who continually makes creation.

After the third immersion, to the west:

Baruch ata adonai, mevarech hashanim.,/em>

Blessed are you, Adonai, who blesses the years.

After the final immersion, to the north:

Beruchah at shekhinah eloteinu ruach ha'olam, shehecheyatnu vekiymatnu vehigiatnu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are you, Shekhinah, spirit of the world, who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this time.

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