Light and Shadow – Re’eh August 19, 2017

Posted on August 21, 2017

It can be said about almost everything that occurs in this world or any action that we may perform: “There’s a bracha for that”. “There’s a blessing for that”. Jews have a blessing for almost everything in our world.

So, naturally, many people have asked me recently: “Is there a blessing for a solar eclipse?”

The answer is, traditionally, no.

But I disagree.

I have been eagerly anticipating this coming Monday for a year or so. Under different circumstances, I would be getting in my car and driving to Southern Illinois to experience the total eclipse. I can’t. So I’ll have to be satisfied, weather permitting, with the 70% or so we’ll see here.

And, I can’t wait.

I am fascinated by all things astronomical and see in them both the creative powers of God and the wisdom of human beings which allows us to explain and predict the orbits and movements of the heavenly lights.

I read something the other day regarding solar eclipses that I had never read before.

Apparently, the only reason that we can experience a total solar eclipse with the brilliant ring that shows around the sun at totality is because even though the sun is 400 times larger than the moon, the moon is 400 times closer to the earth. That enables the moon to cover the disc of the sun perfectly from our perspective. If the sun were bigger or the moon further away, there would be no total eclipse as we know it.

What a coincidence.

Or is it?

I don’t claim that God created the sun and the moon of a particular size just to delight us every few years. Our world could exist very well without this experience.

But, I do believe in a world which has been created with a certain symmetry, balance and intricate structure which enables it to continue to exist in a largely predictable way. And, as you have heard me say many times, while I believe completely and with perfect faith in the idea of the big bang theory and the scientific realities of the world as it is, I also believe that the hand of God, at the very least, started this process going. I do not want to look at anything in the natural world and say, for example: “What a lucky break that human beings can think and feel and dream of great things”. The further I look into the scientific realities of life, the more I am inclined to see a God who dreamed of a world in which thinking, feeling human beings could function.

So, I will celebrate the eclipse with a bracha: Oseh Ma’asei Beraysheet: acknowledging God who fashions the work of creation. I urge you to consider taking a moment during the eclipse to do the same and recognize the truly wondrous world in which we live.

But, as I said before, traditionally, a bracha is not said over an eclipse. This is because it was considered a bad omen for the world to see the sun darkened.

I don’t consider it a bad omen. I know it will only last for a few minutes and we’ll go back to sunlight so I will say a bracha.

But, I do think that during the eclipse we should consider what it means when a light falls into shadow.

There is a beautiful legend about the sun and the moon which teaches that when they were created, they were created to be equal size and each with a light of its own. But, the moon complained to God that there couldn’t be two equal size rulers, one had to be superior. So, God took the moon at its word and lessened it because it rejected equality. The sun, which was satisfied in sharing glory, was given superiority.

We have another bracha in our tradition, said when one sees a human being of notable physical stature or unique appearance. We acknowledge that God is mishaneh habriyot: varies the creations.

While different in appearance, each of us is created with an equal piece of the image of God. We are instructed by our tradition to acknowledge and celebrate the distinctiveness of human beings.

But, some people can’t accept this.

Some say we can’t all be equal. Like the moon, some say, a choice should be made.

And when people say this, they disgrace our creator. They sow seeds of hatred and eclipse any potential light that their society and community could offer.

And that brings us to this moment in our nation’s history.

It must be said clearly by every American of good will and with any moral compass, from the very top of the power structure to each and every one of us here. The threat posed by White Supremacists, those racists who feed on Nazi rhetoric and actions and who terrorize and threaten people whom they deem to be different, including you and me, must be called out and opposed in the strongest possible terms. There can be no equivocation and no attempt at moral equivalency when those with such hatred are involved.

Our nation has seen a rise in rhetoric and actions, notably in Charlottesville, but other places as well, which are drawn from the most despicable, hate-filled ideology. This hatred has always been present in America, usually somewhat under the surface. But, it has been brought into the open by many factors notably the many expressions of divisiveness and code words of hatred which were spoken or tolerated by candidate then President Trump.

These can not be what America is about.

The people who claim that there isn’t room in this country for equality must be rejected and ostracized and can not be given even the slightest hint that there is any tolerance for what they believe or what they seek to do.

It is absolutely true that there is intolerance on all sides of the political spectrum. I’ve personally encountered it. But, here and now, this is the battle that is raging and this horrendous viewpoint must be answered with unified voices of rejection without any hesitation or mincing of words.

Our nation can be a light unto the world. But, that light is eclipsed when those who believe in this poisonous ideology, a way of “thinking” that has led to persecution of so many in this country and resulted in the murder of six million of our people and millions of others in Europe, are allowed even for a moment to think that it has a place in this nation.

I have heard thousands of statements by presidents in my lifetime. Some I have agreed with. Some I have disagreed with. Some have angered me. Some have served as an inspiration to me throughout my life. But, President Trump’s assertion that there were “very fine people” among those who stood with those who held Nazi flags, shouting anti-Semitic and racist chants is the most offensive and despicable statement I have ever heard from a President of the United States. How dare anyone call someone showing any support or tolerance for such an agenda a fine person? Unbelievable and completely unacceptable.

Every day, we must live out our responsibility never to let the light of freedom and equality that our patriots, our soldiers and our citizens, fought for and died for be darkened by hatred and bigotry.

And, we must demand that our elected officials take responsible action to see that we, and all communities threatened by hatred, will be safe in this great country.

Let me close with words of hope and comfort, especially to the young people here.

I believe deeply in the goodness of the majority of people of this nation in which we are blessed to live. I believe, and I have received many calls and emails over the past few days to demonstrate this, that there are people of good will all around this nation ready to stand with us, just as we must be ready to stand with others who are threatened.

There will be some battles ahead. I pray that these battles will only be battles of words, God forbid we see more violence. But, we must be ready to stand alongside other people of good will to ensure our and others’ safety. We will have plenty of allies. There is good all around us.

Our parasha begins: See I set before you blessing and curse, life and death. Choose life. It is a clear choice but a choice which must be made.

Choose life, not death.

Choose equality, not hatred.

Choose light, not darkness.

Choose light and choose it loudly and clearly.