Monday, April 8, 2024

The Berakhah - Hebrew Blessing - for an Eclipse (Yes, there is)

 The Berakhah - Hebrew Blessing - for a Solar Eclipse

The Talmud, on page 29a of tractate Sukkot, proclaims that a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse  are to be understood as a siman (heavenly sign) against evil and sins.  The solar as a warning against the nations of the world and the lunar against Israel. Since the talmud understood these phenomena as negative, no berakhah was prescribed for their observance. It is time to update this teaching.  

The talmudic masters had a clear scientific misunderstanding of the nature of an eclipse.  In a time where the eclipse was understood to be an intrusive act of God into the normal functioning of nature, the need to explain the divine action was strong.  Assuming that it was a negative message is understandable as both the solar and the lunar eclipses diminish the light shining on the world.  Subsequent poskim through the middle ages often focused on the unpredictability of the event to prove its role as a heavenly sign. In the ancient world, they understood that the power of God shone upon the world through the mediums of the son, moon and stars.  Blackening that overflow would have been blocking God’s overflow towards us.  Essentially, that is astrology.

Now we know that the eclipse, and even all weather patterns that make it possible or not to see the eclipse, are completely mechanical phenomena, unrelated to human morals, ethics or mitzvotThey are rare, but they are not extraordinary. With enough observation, data and math, they are entirely predictable (even though we aren't quite there yet with the weather).

Therefore, our experience of an eclipse is of an ordinary, and awe-inspiring manifestation of the regular laws of nature which God created.  There is no miracle, or divine intrusion into the regular functioning of our world.  Therefore the explanation of “why” is irrelevant, and the answer to “why” should be rejected.

We are commanded to appreciate the natural world around us through the saying of berakhot.  Just this week, here in New Jersey we were able to say the berakhah for experiencing an earthquake - certainly a more dangerous experience in potential.  Yet we declared that God is indeed the Master of the Universe, and that God’s power does indeed fill the Earth.  

When we see lightning, comets, or other amazing sights in the starry heavens - perhaps the rings of Saturn through a telescope - we do in fact say a berakhah - a Hebrew blessingBarukh Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh HaOlam, Borei Ma’asei Bereishit - Blessed are you oh Lord our God, Master of the Universe, who creates the acts of Creation.  

Our tradition has great reverence for the idea that we can not invent a “new berakhah,” if the Talmud did not indicate it.  On that basis many halakhic authorities in Jewish law have declared that there is no berakhah for an eclipse.  It is time to correct that historic misunderstanding. and apply the proper berakhah (blessing) to its experience.

When viewing an active Solar or Lunar Eclipse say the blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, עוֹשֶׂה מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית

Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh HaOlam, Borei Ma’asei Bereishit

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