In Orthodox Judaism, there is a blessing for almost anything. If you see a rainbow or a tall mountain, or a first fruit tree in bloom, or you are putting on a new suit, there is a blessing for each of these things. We continuously bless the world around us and each month, we look up to the new moon and bless it as well.
However, as was pointed out this past weekend by a wonderfully brilliant man in our Synagogue, there is no blessing for a solar eclipse. Not one.
A solar eclipse is such a rare event and tends to cause a sensation in the people around us. As I write this, people are hurrying to their viewing spots all over the US to see the eclipse. They have special glasses and boxes and such to view it safely and they count down the moments until the moon passes between us and the sun. Here in Alaska, though…no one is swept up in it. We’re so far north that the majority of the state is out of the viewing area and the moon will simply not be able to block the sun here.
I’m not disappointed, particularly after the talk I heard this weekend.
In the ancient world, eclipses of either the solar or lunar kind were a big deal. Many ancient cultures looked to the night sky for signs and omens and they were able to see solar and lunar eclipses and mark them. Yet, Jews created no blessing for either and this did puzzle early sages. If we had a blessing for the new moon each month and our calendar was based on a lunar system with some allowances made for the sun, shouldn’t such a rare event involving both get our attention? It was a question that they took up in the Talmud to discuss and of course, there were differing opinions as to why Jews really don’t mark eclipses, particularly solar eclipses which are more spectacular.
At the time of the writing, most people around the Jews were following the Roman calendar which divides up time based on the path the earth takes to travel the sun. Some cultures at the time even worshipped the sun. In contrast, the moon held more power over how Jews divided up the year, with each month being the full cycle of the moon. The Sages remarked that a solar eclipse would be a bad omen for those who followed the sun and a lunar eclipse would be a bad omen for those who followed the moon. It seems since it would be a bad thing to rejoice over a bad omen for your neighbors, Jews don’t have a blessing for either event and either kind of eclipse is simply allowed to pass as just a natural phenomenon that we aren’t supposed to attribute much superstitious meaning to. Thus there is no commandment to go and look at an eclipse and no blessing to say if you see one.
As I write this, I hear of people even traveling to view this eclipse, driving long distances to get the best view of it, warning others not to stare directly at it, and generally getting pretty worked up over it. It makes me wonder about what that means about us now that so many of us miss the opportunities for blessing, but rush to that which is no blessing at all?