Last year at this time – during the month of Elul which precedes the Jewish New Year – I was preparing teachings for our High Holiday gatherings. Reflecting on the moon, I wrote about how we might achieve a seasonal realignment by tuning our senses to seven lunar ‘pitches.’ (See “Seven Lunar Lessons for 5777” here.) Well, yet another solar year is coming into orbit, the Jewish year 5778, and the moon is making its presence felt again. As I write these words, I am en route to Wyoming to experience a total solar eclipse, this time guided by my now grown and ‘launched’ kids.
So, eleven months ago, I set for myself (and shared with you) an aspiration: to live fully, with all of my senses, into the lessons of the moon. And now, I find myself anticipating with amazement what will happen when that same moon gets in the way of the source of its light, almost completely blocking the sun from our view, albeit briefly.
Surely there is something worth contemplating in this juxtaposition.
Frequently the word eclipse is used in a negative light (pun intended, of course). A child might feel eclipsed by a sibling, or a parent. A worker might be eclipsed by a colleague or boss. Public figures and media outlets parading lies and speculations, blurring the lines between fact and fabrication, these are eclipses of truth. The demonization, incarceration, enslavement, or murder of innocent refugees, dark-skinned men, daughters, and pedestrians in a market or peaceful protest, these are eclipses of justice. Voters can feel eclipsed by an election result, and citizens by changes in the priorities and policies of their elected leaders.
Such expressions equate eclipses with betrayals. Those who are supposed to reflect the lights of love, truth, justice, beauty, and hope, occasionally block out the very light they are meant to reflect and magnify. And in the orbits of human endeavors – building souls, building families, building wealth and wisdom, building nations – such ‘obstructions’ frequently seem inevitable.
So, why do people, like my kids and me, also get excited about eclipses, like the well publicized one that happened August 21 in the Continental US? And in light of that enthusiasm, how might we reframe these other occasions of eclipse?
The solar eclipse of 1919 enabled a team of British scientists to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity. So there is what to be learned from eclipses in the heavenly orbs. When our earth’s sole moon totally eclipses the light of our solar system’s sun, we can do something that would be impossible for our eyes at all other times, perhaps something only possible once in a lifetime. We can look directly into the sun without blinding ourselves. As a result, eclipses enable us to see and study details about how the sun burns and its light bends.
Perhaps eclipses in society also offer unique opportunities for insight.
What do you see and feel in the wake of the recent act of domestic terrorism perpetrated in Charlottesville? Is this enough of an ‘eclipse’ of justice to enable us to face a ‘color contrast’ in our country that, until now, we’ve simply not been equipped to see, without filters? Old cultural norms are being eclipsed by new ones, and fear breeds anger. This combined with implicit and explicit racism in America is raising the fire danger into the red zone, and making immigration a hot spot.
And what do we do with the obfuscations of truth perpetrated by representatives who eclipsing real challenges with hyperbolic posts on social media and networks masquerading punditry as news? How far can the light of truth bend without breaking?
And even closer to home, the role reversal of travelling with my children as more passenger than parent, is a challenge to my identity as a father. I find it hard as the ‘elder’ not to direct and advise. And, when I manage to follow their lead, I find myself perfectly situated to witness a rare wonder surrounded by a youthful enthusiasm, optimism, and joy.
Face-to-face encounters with eclipses of justice and identity offer insights about how we, as souls and nations, burn and bend, or not.
The New Year is upon us, again. As an annual rite of passage, it offers a valuable marker of change in time. How am I different this year than last year? How are we evolving? Where am I? Where are we? May the recent eclipses in the heavens, on earth, and in hearts, inspire us to attune to the best that burns within, and align us with the strength necessary to bend the arc of the coming year towards all that is blessed and sweet.
May this seasons lunar and solar cycles bring you blessings of sweetness and wonder – L’Hodesh Tov ul’Shanah Tovah,
Rabbi Jamie Arnold