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The Importance and Significance of Birkat Ha’lebana

Women are exempt from the obligation of Birkat Ha’lebana. This is the ruling of the Kaf Ha’haim (Rav Yaakob Haim Sofer, Baghdad-Israel, 1870-1939), and of Hacham Bension Abba Shaul (Israel, 1923-1998), in his work Or Le’sion (vol. 3, 4:1).

A number of sources emphasize the special importance of reciting Birkat Ha’lebana, and of doing so specifically on Mosa’eh Shabbat. It is written in the work Maggid Mesharim that one who recites Birkat Ha’lebana on Mosa’eh Shabbat is blessed with success.

Numerous stories are told of Sadikim who expended great efforts to recite Birkat Ha’lebana. Rabbi Yisrael Abuhasera (the Baba Sali, 1889-1984) was once in Europe and the moon was not visible due to cloudiness as the final time for reciting Birkat Ha’lebana was approaching. He went on a plane, incurring considerable expense, in order to fly to a different location where the weather was fair, so he could recite Birkat Ha’lebana. And it is told that he would often stay up well past midnight waiting for the clouds to dissipate so he could fulfill this Misva. On one occasion, he took a stick and waved it toward the sky, and the clouds moved away so the moon would be exposed and he could recite the Beracha.

It is mentioned in a number of books that one who recites Birkat Ha’lebana does not have to worry about leaving this world that entire month. This is brought down both by the Kaf Ha’haim Sofer and by Rav Haim Palachi (Turkey, 1788-1869), in his Kaf Ha’haim (35:3). The Elya Rabba (Rabbi Eliyahu Shapiro of Prague, 1660-1712) adds that a person who recites Birkat Ha’lebana does not even have to fear a decree of death being issued against him. It is told that a certain pious Jew was once approached by non-Jews who told him they were going to kill him. He asked as his last wish for a chance to recite Birkat Ha’lebana, and when he fulfilled this Misva, the men ran away. Rav Haim Palachi mentions that this protection is earned specifically if one recites Birkat Ha’lebana with Kavana (concentration).

The Sefer Ha’berit raises the question of how to reconcile this tradition with empirical evidence. After all, there are Sadikim who die, and it is difficult to imagine that they all neglected to properly recite Birkat Ha’lebana the month they died. He suggests that we need to add two words to the text of the Kaf Ha’haim where this tradition is recorded, namely, "Bi’ydeh Adam" – "by people." Meaning, one who properly performs this Misva is guaranteed protection from being killed by people, but when a person’s time to leave this world comes, he will be taken despite performing this Misva. Other sources say that performing this Misva protects one from "Mita Meshuna" – an unusual death, but not from death of natural causes.

Of course, it is imperative to fulfill the Misva of Birkat Ha’lebana for the simple reason that it is a Misva. But additionally, as we have seen, the merit of this Misva offers special protection, and thus it assumes particular importance. As such, one should seize the first opportunity to perform this Misva, without delaying the recitation. This is especially important for Sepharadim, as we do not recite the Beracha before the 7th of the month, and thus have a small window – about one week – in which to perform the Misva. (Ashkenazim allow reciting the Beracha already from the 3rd of the month, and thus have close to two weeks.) And, as we know, here in North America there can be cloud-cover for an entire week. In light of all this, one should make a point to recite Birkat Ha’lebana at the first available opportunity, and not delay it at all, in order to ensure to reap the great benefits offered by this very special Misva.

 


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