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.