The Spiritual Meaning of an Eclipse

Solar Eclipse. Photo: NASA.

Solar Eclipse. Photo: NASA.

Like most things, meaning is often something we ascribe rather than something intrinsic. An eclipse is a fact of the physical world based on orbiting bodies and the shadows they cast when sun, moon and Earth interact. They are knowable and predictable.

Our tradition has suggested that an eclipse portends an unfavorable time for the world. A lunar eclipse was a bad omen for the Jewish people in particular, perhaps because of our connection to the lunar cycles in our calendar. I particularly like the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s z”l understanding of eclipses, described by Chabad as “opportunities to increase in prayer and introspection.”

I do not know whether an eclipse would prompt certain bad behaviors to come out. This idea seems to lapse into the realm of the bubbe meise or superstition. But anything that makes us pause and consider things a bit more deeply about our circumstances is worthwhile. We have portents and signs all around us, if only we would recognize them. Often we do not, and even more rarely do we use them as a call to action.

I recall my first solar eclipse. It happened when I was a child living in the “holy city” of Monsey, New York. My father fashioned a special viewer so I could watch the progression. It was essentially little more than a cardboard box with a peephole. I was transfixed as the partial eclipse took place. The silhouette of the sun showed it being obscured and the sky turned a strange hue. I vividly recall being cautioned by my dad not to look at the sun because I would go blind. I could not resist at least a quick glance skyward to see this extraordinary event firsthand. And thankfully my sight was preserved, although at the time I was concerned.

What we do with this amazing event is — like so many other things — up to us. I suggest that for those who can see the upcoming solar eclipse, watch it with a sense of wonderment and awe for the extraordinary world in which we live, contemplate your place in the world, and act.

 
On August 21, the path of a total solar eclipse will cover the swath of the United States indicated on the map below.

2017 solar eclipse path across the U.S. Map: Wolfgang Strickling.

2017 solar eclipse path across the U.S. Map: Wolfgang Strickling.


 

Happy Independence Day

We celebrate Independence Day because we are blessed to live in a land where liberty and equality are the founding principles. As a Jew, I am profoundly grateful to be a citizen of a country where I am free and safe from the hatred that has sadly been a part of Jewish history. As Americans, we need to remain vigilant, protecting and expanding the rights of all citizens. We need to understand that our greatness comes from all of our people and from our core beliefs. [Read more…]

What Race Are You?

Desert Road.

Desert Road.

What Race do you identify with?
A Marathon!

(Rimshot)

Actually, that isn’t the opening joke in my lounge act, but part of an important recent conversation.

I was asked this question in the Red Cross Blood Drive pre-screening. The inquirer, an African-American, was completing the questionnaire and asked me to identify myself by race. There was a time when I would have responded Caucasian/White. But I uncomfortably paused and then quipped Marathon. We laughed and then we skipped the question. But, I actually do not know how to answer that question anymore.

I am not ashamed of what is now called my “white privilege.” As a Jew in America, the ability to call myself Caucasian/White is on some level a sign that we made it and have gained popular acceptance. But perhaps this acceptance remains elusive. This simple gathering of data for statistical tracking purposes has become a marker of something more complicated and fraught. [Read more…]

Do You Grab Hold of the Torah on Shavuot?

Artistic Styalization of Two Hands Giving and Receiving

Hands Giving and Receiving

At Shavuot, how we receive the gift of Torah is one of the great questions posed. I found a path towards understanding in a passage of the Talmud.

One is really two and two is really four. This is not a set of alternative facts but an insight from the Talmud (BT Shabbat 2a) about the nature of things. Shavuot is the time of the giving of Torah. But in any transaction there are two components, giving and receiving; one is really two. But it doesn’t stop there.

Both giving and receiving are either active or passive. In giving, we can thrust it towards another actively, or we can be passive and open our hands for the other to take it. Similarly, in receiving, we can actively take the gift with eagerness and enthusiasm, or we can open our hands to passively receive the gift that is to be bestowed upon us. Two is really four. [Read more…]

Dayenu – A Call to Action

Dayenu!

Nachshon

Waves symbolizing the waters of the Red Sea.

“It would have been enough for us.”

This is our response to each of the many miracles we enumerate at the Seder table. Thank you, God, for doing each of these great things; if you stopped at any point along the way, that should have been enough to satisfy us.

But our response is incomplete.

[Read more…]

Hate Has no Home in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Mt. Carmel Jewish Cemetery. Photo: 6abc.

Philadelphia Mt. Carmel Jewish Cemetery. Photo: 6abc.

An anti-Semitic desecration of a cemetery has come to Philadelphia. The Mt. Carmel Cemetery in North East Philadelphia was vandalized with over 100 headstones were toppled. This is an empty act of cowardice, hatred, and stupidity. But more important than the acts of these thugs is the outpouring of love and support in our community. People joined at Mt. Carmel to witness the acts and begin the process of restoration. A vigil was held Sunday night in Narberth to express solidarity.

What you can do to demonstrate that “Hate Has no Home Here:”

Please donate what you can to aid in the cemetery restoration.

You can sign up to help clean up the cemetery. There will be a rally at Independence Mall on Thursday, March 2, at 12 pm.

Also, the Daarus Salaam Mosque in Tampa was burned this past Friday. Please make a donation to help the Islamic Society of New Tampa community rebuild.

hhnhh-sign-blue-original-curves-PRINTTogether we stand, a bit shaken but unbowed, committed to the values of love and unity that make our country great. No acts of domestic terrorism or hatred will dampen our commitment to each other and the country we love.

The Fourth Estate is not Mar-a-Lago: The Sacred Duty of the Press

The First Amendment Graphic TheRadmal.com

The First Amendment. Graphic: TheRadmal.com

The Fourth Estate (the Press) is not one of  Trump’s real estate properties. It is time for both sides to get back to work.

The Free Press has a sacred place in the American system of government. The Founders knew the extraordinary responsibility they entrusted to the Press to use their reporting as a supreme check and balance to the power of each branch of Government. The First Amendment of our Bill of Rights guarantees that this voice is exercised to preserve, protect and defend our country from the corruption that power can bring. Whether the Press fulfills this responsibility, or that the work is appreciated, is open to question. [Read more…]

Children Teach Us Something Important on the Basketball Court

I recently went to the Wells Fargo Center to watch some kids play a pickup game of basketball. It was not your typical basketball game, however, but not because the kids were playing on the home court of the Philadelphia 76ers. This was a game involving students from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr and the Al Aqsa Islamic Academy in Philadelphia. It was also the bar mitzvah project of Ari Abramovitz, a middle-school student at Barrack. [Read more…]