Mystical Lessons from the Solar Eclipse
By Morah Yehudis Fishman
A close friend of mine passed away suddenly, a few weeks
before this year's solar eclipse. For many people, this eclipse is the
big event of the year, but for me, it was the eclipse of my friend. I
don't know what the eclipse means and I don't know what my friend's sudden
death means. But I will not let either pass by without some attempt at
asking why, not with focus on the past but with contemplation of higher
purpose. As the sages say about the significance of attending a funeral:
'V'haChai yiten et libo,' 'and the living should take to heart.'
Many rabbis ask why we do not say a blessing for an eclipse
as we do for other natural phenomena that we encounter, like thunder and
lightning, earthquakes, etc. One answer is that an eclipse has a negative
connotation, and we do not say blessings or 'Shehechiyanu' for such things.
For example, we do not say a blessing for new leather shoes, because they
came from the death of an animal.
What is the negative connotation of the eclipse? One aspect
is that sunlight itself represents divine revelation. Therefore, a cosmic
event that blocks the sun represents a concealment of revelation. The
Kabbalistic term is 'Tzimtzum,' referring to hiding of holy light, thereby
producing a darkened state. But is unusual darkness always bad, and is
bright light always good? Not necessarily.
On a theological level, Tzimtzum is needed to protect us
from too high a dose of light, even when the light is positive. When G-d
warns the Israelites from approaching Mt. Sinai as Moshe did, G-d is conveying
the principle that not everyone is ready to handle a surge of spiritual
voltage. Recall too the story of the two sons of Aharon who tried to enter
the Holy of Holies while unprepared to integrate the light and 'bring
it back home,' i.e. to return to physical reality.
Similarly, with an eclipse, we are constantly reminded not
to stare directly at the eclipse. How do we look safely? By preparing
and viewing through the right kind of glasses, or a 'homemade box' that
will give us protection from the intensity of the light. What are the
'Jewish glasses' that give us this ability to experience the divine light
without pulling the soul away from the body? It is the insulation provided
by vessels and vestments of Torah and mitzvot! Some people think that
the latter are meant to pull us away from this world. On the contrary,
say our mystics, Torah and Mitzvot are meant to keep the soul and body
in harmony in this world.
On a personal level, in an eclipse, we know the sun is still
there, as bright as ever. So too the death of a loved one does not mean
that the person no longer exists. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe once put it,
the soul has just moved to the second floor. The loved one has not terminated
its reality, except in this physical world. Moreover, the soul continues
to look upon us and care about us and even guide us when necessary. Therefore,
not only is excessive grief detrimental to us, it can also hamper the
soul ascent of the deceased.
A further perspective from the Rebbe about the light of
Darkness: "Normally light is the presence of Divinity and darkness
its absence. In Psalm 18 however, G-d takes darkness and incorporates
it, bringing it into the realm of G-dliness. In our own experience, this
finds expression when the dark depths of despair and spiritual introspection
lead to heights of spiritual light. These epiphanies come not in opposition
to the darkness, but because of it. This paradox is possible because there
is a type of darkness made by G-d
.as the verse says: G-d made darkness
His concealment, and granted a measure of inner light and Divinity. Thus
King Solomon declared in Kohelet: 'I have seen the advantage of light
from the darkness '- i.e. darkness itself can be a source of light."
The sages ask: Why in Judaism does the night precede the day in the calendar?
They reply, because darkness must be followed by light. In other words,
unlike light, darkness is NOT an end in itself. What is the purpose of
darkness? It is meant to become incorporated and transformed into light.
So too, life experiences that we call 'dark' and may even induce despair,
have an aim of bringing us to a higher place. This is the deeper meaning
of, 'And the living shall take to heart.'
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov explains that this is a reason
why we close our eyes when we say 'Shema Yisrael
.' When we focus
on the Oneness of G-d, we are shutting our eyes to the barriers to this
Oneness where ultimately everything has a deeper meaning. He also relates
this to the kissing of the Tzitzit and the blue thread called 'Techeilet,'
which is also related to the word 'Tachlit,' meaning purpose. We may not
be able to comprehend why bad things happen, but our faith can connect
us to the light in ways that are more profound than before the negative
I conclude with a few verses from Scripture: 'When I sit
in darkness, G-d is my light' [ ]. Also, 'And it will be toward evening,
there will be light' . May these verses come true and be manifest for
us as individuals, and for Israel and humanity as a whole.
This article originally appeared in Boulder Jewish News.
Yehudis Fishman has been teaching Torah and chassidic philosophy
to people of all ages and backgrounds for over fifty years, most recently
in Boulder, Colorado, and continues to teach and counsel. Her qualities
of erudition, relevance, sensitivity and humor endear her to a broad spectrum
of multigenerational students.