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Thought for the Day: Sukkos and Lunar Eclipse/Celebration and Demonstration

The first night of Sukkos was a few nights ago.  As it turns out, a total eclipse of the moon was also visible from Chicago that night; becoming total at 9:47PM.  I mentioned that to someone walking home from shul and added, "It's a beautiful night to observe the eclipse!"  He answered me, with some disdain, "It is a beautiful night to be in the sukkah."  He apparently felt I had too much enthusiasm for this astronomical event and not enough for the sanctity of evening.  I accepted the mussar, but I had very spiritual reasons for being excited about a lunar eclipse... especially on Sukkos.

Before we get to the spirituality, it is worth taking just a few moments to appreciate the event.  The earth is 93,000,000 miles from the sun.  To get a lunar eclipse, you need the earth to come between the sun and the moon.  If you think about that, you'll realize that a lunar eclipse will only occur when the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the earth; ie, a full moon.  The eclipse is "just" the shadow of the earth falling across the moon.  Why "just" (in quotes)?  The moon is 250,000 miles from the earth.  So this line up of sun/moon/earth is like aiming a good size search light (the sun) at a golf ball (the earth) that is over 26 miles away and then putting a pea (the moon) in the shadow of the golf ball.  Good luck.

That's a lot of really precise placement.  Seems like a big bother.  Almost makes one think it isn't by accident.  (You knew that was coming.)  In fact, we refer to solar eclipses every Shabbos; it's right there in the davening.  Where?  I was hoping you would ask.  In "Keil Adon" (Shabbos morning hymn), we say (among other things): He called to the sun and it shone forth, He saw; and He fixed the form of the appearance of the moon.  Nice hymn.  Simple enough.  But wait...the flow of the hymn should have just been, "He called to the sun... and He fixed the moon..."  An attentive reading begs the question: What did He see that required fixing the moon?  In fact, what exactly did He fix?

The medrash (quoted by the Prisha on the Tur, OC 281) says that He saw that the nations would worship the sun, so He fixed the orbit of the moon to eclipse the sun from time to time!  While the nations were running around in terror about this or that eclipse, we were smiling at the precision with which HaShem had placed the heavenly bodies in their celestial paths.  Isn't that cool?  Sitting in a sukkah -- celebrating HaShem's infinitely precise supervision of even the tiniest details -- and observing a beautiful and grand demonstration of one that same idea.

Which is why I was excited for the perfect viewing conditions especially on this holy evening.

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