APRIL 8, 2024

         Yes, I saw it. And so did millions of others. And, I assume, not one of them came away disappointed. In fact, I would say that most of those came away with a life-long memory which changed them, even in a small way. 

         I am referring to last week’s solar eclipse whose path of totality spread over much of the central United States and within an easy drive of tens of millions. 

         We saw the eclipse at Bowling Green State University along with a crowd of more than 5,000. The event at the football stadium was wonderful with demonstrations, explanations, games and music but all fell into the background as the main event approached. And, at the moment of totality, the crowd burst into applause and then immediately quieted as people took in this awesome moment. 

         I am very much an “armchair” astronomer in the sense that I love to seek out astronomical phenomena and have had the privilege to see meteor showers, transits of the sun, the planets and distant galaxies through telescopes and just the beauty of a nighttime sky away from any light pollution. But, this event, a total solar eclipse was the most remarkable of all. 

         While I wouldn’t compare the personal impact of the eclipse to the moment of the birth of my children, there was a similar piece to each of them. When the “big moment” came, it was overwhelming and almost too much to take in. But it is a moment I will never forget.

         I knew the eclipse was coming and I knew what to expect with it. But, nonetheless I was astounded- or perhaps relived- that it came right on the moment when it was expected and lasted just as long as was expected. The combination of the dependable and predictable cycles of the universe and the wisdom with which human beings can know and understand how those cycles will work to the smallest fraction of a second is undeniable proof to me of a universe which has been created by God purposefully and deliberately. 

         And it is further proof that one of the most meaningful ways we can worship our creator is by respecting and appreciating with wonder not only the majestic moments such as a solar eclipse but also the simple miracles of life which surround us every day. 

         A solar eclipse can only happen on a new moon, when we can not see any of the moon’s surface because all of the light of the sun is directed at the back or “dark” side of the moon. If the moon’s orbit were perfectly coordinated with the plane of the earth, we would have a solar eclipse every lunar cycle, almost every month, but we do not because, in fact, the orbits do not line up perfectly due to the tilt of the earth and the course of the orbit. 

         Similarly, were those orbits completely coordinated, we would have a lunar eclipse every month. But, of course, we do not and, weather permitting, we are in fact treated to the sight of the full moon every lunar cycle as the light of the sun is reflected onto the moon as it is closely, but not perfectly, aligned with the earth.

         Next Monday evening, we will look up to the sky and see the full moon as we gather for the Pesach Seder. 

         It is the same sight we saw 7 months ago when we sat in the Sukkah on the first night of Sukkot. It is a reminder that our ancestors found great meaning in gathering by the light of the full moon and it is a chance for us to consider how we ourselves and the world has changed since we sat in the sukkah. 

         So much has changed for the worse in so many ways. But the one thing that has not changed is the way the natural world operates and provides for opportunities for wonder and for hope. 

         Seeing the full moon should also remind us that this was the same full moon our ancestors saw as they ate from the Pesach sacrifice preparing to leave Egypt. As we sit at the Seder, we are on a spiritual level, experiencing that same eternal night celebrating the Exodus as if we were part of that journey and taking with us the lessons learned and making them part of our lives as we seek to repair this broken world. 

         One of the most fascinating aspects of the solar eclipse is that the relationship between the size of the moon and the sun and their relative distance from earth is such that, from our perspective, the much smaller moon covers the much larger sun completely, leaving enough room on the edges for us to see the glorious corona around the sun. 

It is ironic that the magnificent moment of the moon’s impact on our lives through the solar eclipse comes at the time that the moon is the darkest and not noticeable in the sky. Perhaps this is a lesson to us to look for the positive and life-enhancing moments that come about in the least expected places. It is a lesson as well to know that our lives are not affected only by obvious, powerful aspects of our world but by the subtle and simple miracles that surround us always. 

Hag Sameach for a meaningful, wondrous Pesach.  

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