Do We Say a Blessing for the Solar Eclipse? By Yehuda Shurpin
I have been reading articles about the upcoming solar eclipse. It is being billed as the first solar eclipse in over a century that will be visible in the the contiguous United States. Some claim that eclipses are a bad omen of things to come.
In light of this, what is the Jewish perspective on eclipses?
Also, is there any blessing recited upon witnessing an eclipse? I found blessings for all sorts of phenomena such as lightning, thunder, rainbows and earthquakes, but I see no such blessing for witnessing an eclipse?
The sages of the Talmud state:
When the luminaries are stricken, it is an ill omen for the world. To what can we compare this? To a king of flesh and blood who prepared a feast for his servants and set a lantern to illuminate the hall. But then he became angry with them and said to his servant: "Take the lantern from before them and seat them in darkness."1
The Talmud then goes on to describe the particular sins for which the luminaries are "stricken."
Natural Phenomenon or Bad Omen?
Now that's puzzling.
The predictability of eclipses was already well known in Talmudic times (the Talmud was completed in the 5th century in Babylonia). And aside from the prevalent scientific knowledge of the day, the sages of the Talmud were well aware of how to calculate eclipses due to their meticulous and complex astronomical calculations for sanctifying the new Jewish month. (Trivia: A solar eclipse can only occur around the time of a new month on the Jewish lunar calendar.)
This leads to the obvious question: How could the sages of the Talmud state that an eclipse is a bad omen caused by our sins? They knew that an eclipse is predictable. But they also certainly believed that sins are not predictable!
To make things yet more puzzling, the Midrash Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer—which predates the Talmud—takes both sides of the coin: that eclipses are both a natural astronomical phenomenon as well as a bad sign!2
Eclipses or Sunspots?
Some, most notably Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz (1690–1764) in his work Ya'arot Devash, explain that the Talmud's mention of "stricken luminaries" does not refer to eclipses, but rather sunspots and other such phenomena that darken the sun and do not have a pre-set schedule or determinable cause.3
While this makes for an intriguing theory, there are a number of difficulties with this explanation. For one thing, the Talmud speaks about the moon being "stricken" as well, not just the sun. For another, sunspots themselves are predictable.
Additionally, in the analogy the Talmud provides, the king says, "Remove the lantern from them and let them sit in the dark," i.e., the luminaries being "stricken" results in our sitting in darkness.4
Constellations and a Predisposition for Good or Bad
The most simple explanation: An eclipse is not caused by sin. Rather, it is an indication of a trying time, a time when there is a natural predisposition for sin, and for strict judgment of that sin.5
Time, in traditional thought, is not homogeneous. The Talmud provides many other examples of the good and bad seasons of time. Certain times are a better opportunity to take specific action. "Most of a person's wisdom is achieved only at night."6 Similarly, the early morning is considered an auspicious time for prayer to be received. Being born at certain times creates a predilection for a specific mode of behavior—for good or for the opposite.
Obviously, this does not contradict a fundamental principle of Jewish thought, that human beings have free will. "Freedom is granted to every person,"7 states the Mishnah, whether to be righteous or the opposite.
If so, it is impossible that your innate predisposition should draw you immutably to good or bad; rather, the sign under which you are born merely creates within you a proclivity toward certain behaviors. With effort, you can overcome your natural tendencies, and even transform them.
The same is true regarding eclipses and other "signs in the heavens." When G‑d created the world, He created signs in the heavens for people to be aware of times when there would be a greater predisposition for sin and punishment. The eclipse itself does not necessarily mean that people will act on that predisposition and actually sin, thereby causing punishment. Rather, it is a generous warning: Take care at this time. Put more effort into doing good. Avoid situations that may tax your moral fortitude.
No Blessing …
In light of the above we can understand why you were unable to find any blessing for witnessing an eclipse. The Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—explains that since eclipses are meant to be opportunities for increasing in prayer and introspection—as opposed to prompting joyous blessings, we do not recite a blessing when witnessing one.8
… But No Fear
In the creation story at the beginning of the book of Genesis,9 the Torah states, "And G‑d said, "Let there be luminaries in the expanse of the heavens … and they shall be for signs and for appointed seasons and for days and years." The classic commentaries explain that "they shall be for signs" is a reference to eclipses.10 Thus, we learn that these phenomena are meant to be a sign for us.
At the same time, the prophet Jeremiah proclaims, "Hearken to the word that the L‑rd spoke about you, O house of Israel . . . So says the L‑rd: 'Of the way of the nations you shall not learn, and from the signs of the heaven be not dismayed…'"11
In other words, these are indeed "signs in the heavens," yet the prophet tells us that we should not fear them, for, as the sages of the Talmud explain, as long as one acts properly, there is nothing to fear.
It was from Mount Eval that the Bnei Israel were warned
Against actions for which they would be scorned.
They were told to hear and see there are consequences
There were earthquakes, droughts, floods and avalanches
There were curses because the people no longer knew Yosef,
They forget the Avaot and Imaot and worshipped the repulsive.
Thus they suffered slavery and degradation
And their land was without habitation.
And it was from Mt Gerizim that they were advised
To reappraise their actions and be wise
They crossed River Jordan as well as the Sea of Reeds
Miracles were according to their deeds.
Not worshipping idols gained favor with their Holy One
They remembered what the forefathers had done.
The chessed of Avraham, learning of Yitzkak, honesty of Yaakov
They listened to HIS commands, for aliyah they strove.
Adding or subtracting from GOD's laws is a perversion
Listening to false prophets is an aversion.
Seeing HIS words are essential
Acting accordingly is an honorable credential
Those who choose to revise their history and HIS laws
Do not benefit by changing their mandated cause.
Those who hearken know accomplishment, fulfillment, spiritual growth
It is service to HASHEM that they must make their Oath.
Destroying synagogues to please their enemies
Makes heavenly into deadly decrees
Giving charity, tithes, keeping Torah, teaching their children
Is doing the actions for blessings to win.
Sacrificing their land for alien clans
Is bowing to invaders and their murderous plans.
Being righteous, Doing good deeds
Induces HASHEM to fulfill all Bnei Yisrael's needs.
Seeing HIS words, responding with our actions
Achieves benefiting reactions.
Not hungry for bread, not thirsting for water
Peace and prosperity are from following GOD's order
Righteousness is the currency for prosperity and peace
Settlement is the glorified lease.
We see HIS words, vivid and clear when we act with care.
Blessings are the result of the goodness we share.
The Kabbalah of the Heart
" Judges and officers shall you appoint for your gates", begins this week's Torah portion in this new month of Elul. For a few moments, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and envision yourself as a city with seven gates. These gates are your two eyes, your two ears, your two nostrils and your mouth. These are the seven passageways to the soul, according to Reb Nachman. " Judges and officers shall you appoint for your gates." Are your gates open or closed? What do you allow to enter you and on what basis do you make that determination? What do you allow to depart from you? On what basis do you make that determination? Who is in charge of our gates? The soul or the ego. When our ego is charge, we engage in negativity, fear and comparisons. We are usually either too harsh or too lenient. We make false judgments against ourselves and others. We may blame ourselves for our imagined failures. We may berate ourselves with " I could have, I should have, I would have" or " We worry, filled with all kinds of fears and doubts. We deny G-d's presence and role in our life. When our ego is in charge, we blame others for the ways that we have acted that have sabotaged our capacity to receive life's goodness. In so doing, we actually cut ourselves off from receiving and appreciating the gifts of life. After Adam ate of the Tree of Good and Evil, God asked him " Where are you? Adam was given the opportunity to acknowledge where we was. But Adam was hiding because he now realized that he was naked. God then asked him" Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten of the tree from which I commanded you not to eat? Adam responded ' The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate." Adam did not tell a lie. It was the truth, but he blamed Eve and he blamed God for giving him Eve. For this act of blaming, he was cast out of the garden. When we blame others, we are cast out of the garden. When our soul is our gatekeeper of our gates, we live with faith and trust. We see, hear, smell and speak Godliness everywhere. We celebrate our successes and are grateful for each of our blessings. We understand that everything, even the hard challenges in our lives are opportunities to move closer to our true selves, to God. We take responsibility for our actions. We do not blame others or ourselves. We align ourselves with Divine will, we do good deeds, and we trust in God. The soul is our gatekeeper and we are not quick to judge others or ourselves. Let's celebrate the people we are and can be in the future. We can continue to grow and become better. . Prayer and Meditation on the Gates to our Soul Thank you God for the blessing of my eyes, my ears, my nose and my mouth. May all these holy and important passageways for my soul to interact with the world be purified. Visualize that the top of the head opens and receives a font of white light. Visualize this white light purifying your vision. and then say silently or out loud " May I see Godliness through my eyes,' Visualize white light moving to purify the passage way of the ears. ' " May I hear goodness through my ears," Visualize white light now moving to purify the passage way of speech, " May I speak words that uplift, heal, and reveal Godliness through the lips of my mouth. Visualize white light now moving to purify the passage way of the nose, the sense of smell, our intuition. " My I intuit and sense the Godliness in all that I experience." ******************************************************** On Monday August 21st, only the United States will experience a total solar eclipse. For a few moments, the moon will block the light of the sun, the sky will darken, and the temperature will drop in the middle of a normally hot summer day. This extraordinary supernatural phenomenon reminds us that we can also change. We are not limited to nature. We can also go beyond our nature. What a wakeup call for the work of this month of Elul. There is much inner work that we need to do in Elul to open to the blessing of a new year. Elul is the headquarters for seeking forgiveness and forgiving oneself and others. This upcoming solar eclipse is a kind of judgment for the United States. It is so important that we come together at this time to acknowledge in all humility that God is running this world. We may have differences but we are not separate from each other. We are all together, sharing this world, created by the same awesome Being we by many names call God. There is so much senseless polarization and hostility taking place between people today. I have become dismayed about the absence of dialogue, the lack of respect and the increasing difficulty people have in hearing people who think differently than they do without rushing to judgement and assassinating a person's character. Let's each make an effort to breathe, open our heart and appoint the soul and our beautiful loving heart as the gatekeeper for our mouth, eyes and ears and nose before we judge others or even ourselves. It is a time for each of us to pave a pathway to greater love, respect and understanding. " We live in dangerous times. We can try to deny what is taking place, but that does not make the danger go away. We can fight with each other, blame others for what is taking place, but that only weakens us. Or we can come together in prayer and good deeds. That will make us stronger. It would be wonderful if we each took on more mitzot during this upcoming month of Elul such as give more charity, pray more, extend ourselves to care for other people, learn Torah, become more observant. etc. We need to show God and our selves that we love life, we love ourselves and others and we are committed to living the kind of life God intended for us, the kind of life that is in alignment with Godliness. Now is the time to call out in prayer for a miracle. " (excerpted form last week's newsletter) My brother gave me a challenge when he visited me on my birthday this year. He advised me to say hello to a new person every day. I have been doing that with great delight. Some days I even say hello to two or three new people. Some of the people I say hello to I have seen around but I never went out of my way to greet and meet them. Yesterday I spoke to an elderly man who told me that he walks four hours each morning in a nearby park even though it is still quite hot in Florida. He claims to have lost 125 pounds through walking. I found him and this walking practice in nature to be inspiring. If you have found clarity on one or two things that you can do to become a better person and help others at the same time, it would be good to tell someone else and encourage them to take on a good deed as well. Feel free to tell me as well. Feel free to share this message with others and invite them to join the Kabbalah of the heart newsletter.Thank you for spreading these teachings. Contact me at Beitmiriam@msn.com. Love and blessing, Melinda Mindy Ribner