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Solar Eclipse In Judaism


Last week the world witnessed another wonder of our universe, the Solar Eclipse. This eclipse was visible from Southeast Asia and was the longest eclipse in 18 years and will remain the longest for the next 123 years.

The eclipse has long been associated with mythology and supernatural acts. If you are a fan of the TV show, Heroes, you know what I mean.

In Southeast Asia, many Hindus were gripped by fear. According to Hindu  tradition, the eclipse can cause harm to unborn children. Many ancient cultures attached mythological meaning to solar eclipses. Today, we know that the eclipse is part of the solar pattern that is predictable to the second.

What about Judaism? What do we say about the solar eclipse?

The Talmud in Sukkah (29a) gives us a clue.

The Rabbis taught: An account of four things the sun is [eclipsed]: An improperly eulogized head of Jewish court, a betrothed girl who is raped and her cries go unheeded, […], and two brothers killed on one day.

What in the world does this mean?

Is this more mythology?

The 19th Century German Torah Scholar, Yaakov Etlinger, writes in his Aruch L’Ner, that the Talmudic Rabbis certainly knew eclipses were natural phenomena running their course. (He proves this with inferences from within the text which are too tedious and lost in translation to English). It is similar to what Nachmanadies writes with regard to the Biblical promise after the Great Flood that God would not flood the world again, and he sealed the promise with the rainbow. Of course, the rainbow always existed, it is a natural phenomena. Nachmanadies explains that the rainbow is a sign, a reminder to us and in a different sense to God that He made a promise never to destroy His world again.

Simililarly, when a solar eclipse occurs and the light is temporarily removed from the physical world we are reminded of the moral implications of a dark world. A world in which good leaders are quickly forgotten, women are treated as objects and blood is spilled within one family, is a world of darkness.

When we see the eclipse we are to remember that it is our job as human beings to bring light into our world. The light of morality, mindfulness and sensitivity will protect our society from these terrible social ills mentioned in Sukkah. It is important to recognize what a world we would have if there was no moral light. If our world was thrust into spiritual darkness just as the physical world is thrust into sudden solar darkness during an eclipse our world would be quite different. Seeing this occur in the natural world “enlightens” us to provide that light and prevent the spiritual darkness from overcoming the light.

I think it is absolutely magnificent to live a life where we find meaning and messages from every part of our lives. A life where each moment makes a difference and each of our choices can change the world.

Equally magnificent is the sheer physical beauty of the solar eclipse.

Thanks for reading this post. In appreciation I have provided some of the best footage (seen on NYTimes.com) of last week’s eclipse. Enjoy it – you deserve it.

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Filed under: All Posts, Musings & Observations, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    Very nice!

  2. […] Solar Eclipse In Judaism « Pacific Jewish Center | Rabbi […]

  3. Tevye says:

    Excellent writeup. We need to hear more of that.

  4. E. F. Shaar says:

    Good overview of a topic (eclipse in tractate succos) that has perplexed me.

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