What’s Jewish about an eclipse?

By Laura Seymour

By the time you read this, the solar eclipse will be a memory to talk about. I have read and read to understand and then be able to share specifically: “What’s Jewish about an eclipse?” Well, there are lots of things that have been written over the centuries by prophets and sages of the past as well as scientists of today. Traditionally, solar eclipses were seen as bad omens in Jewish tradition. However, Rabbi Geoff Mitelman wrote in his article “The Eclipse Isn’t Just a Natural Process — It’s a Historical Event” that the experience is not just a scientific event that we can predict. There are experiences that we share and pass on not only to our children and grandchildren, but with others. We talk about many world events, saying, “Where were you when _______ happened?” It is a shared event, which makes it more special and unique.

 Rabbi Mitelman shared Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s distinction between a “process” and an “event”. Heschel writes: “A process has no future. It becomes obsolete and is always replaced by its own effects. We do not ponder about last year’s snow. An event, on the other hand, retains its significance even after it has passed; it remains a last motive because and regardless of its effects. Great events, just as great works of art, are significant in themselves. Our interest in them endures long after they are gone…. There are events which never become past. Sacred history may be described as an attempt to overcome the dividing line of past and present, as an attempt to see the past in the present tense.” (From “God in Search of Man”)

 For those people who traveled and camped out to come to Dallas, this event will be filled with many different stories and the complete experience will be remembered and talked about with family and friends. For those of us in Dallas, who just had to go outside at the right time, the experience will be no less amazing (just a little easier!). Together we can share this as a communal and personal experience. Mitelman concludes: I can’t wait to experience the incredible majesty and awe of not just “Let there be light,” but truly surprising “Let there be dark.”

As you remember the day, did you remember to say a blessing (is there a blessing for an eclipse?)? There is a blessing for everything! The one for seeing a comet or shooting star, lightning or other awesome things is: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Author of Creation. Or this one for a remarkable natural phenomenon: Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the Universe, whose strength and glory fills the universe. And the Shecheheyanu is always perfect for being thankful for being present in a special moment. And if you forgot, say a blessing as you share the memory, making it a “lador vador” moment, from generation to generation.

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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