Talmudic tradition holds that every 28 years, the sun returns to the position it held on the day G-d created it. The NYT explains the math here:
God created the sun, the moon and the stars on Wednesday, the fourth day. A solar year is about 365 1/4 days, or about 52 weeks and 1 1/4 days. So each year since creation, the sun rises 1 1/4 days, or 30 hours, later. It takes 28 years for the sun to again hit the same position in the firmament at the same moment on the same day of the week.
The Times points out, however, that scientifically the calculation is not quite that simple, that a year is several minutes longer than the 365 and ¼ days cited above, and over thousands of years these few minutes add up.
But, what does it matter. The rabbis that figured this out are a hundred times smarter than me and the Times reporter put together, so I’m confident they got it right and the sun is exactly where it is supposed to be.
But, really, the point is that it is a good thing, every 28 years or so, to take a few moments and ponder not only why we are here, or how we got here, or the hundreds of millions of other variables and unknowns that cling to our existence, or the tens of thousands of seemingly intractable issues and conflicts our presence on this planet produce, but also the indisputable fact that we are here, and how awesome and miraculous our mere and meager existence is, whether you think that is the result of an Act of G-d, an act of science, or both.
JFK put it better than I ever could:
For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal.
Some pics of the Birkat Hachama follow:
Some views from Carter's Mountain
Rabbi Dan Alexander, Congregation Beth Israel, Charlottesville, VA