There was a lunar eclipse seen all over North America this week. Personally, I did not stay up to see it, but I was wondering if there was a blessing that those who did see it should have said.
I did not get to see the eclipse either. Not just because it was in the middle of the night for those of us on the East Coast, but because it was a particularly cloudy night here in Montreal.
There are special blessings that we make whenever we witness particularly wondrous natural phenomena. Eclipses, however, are not listed among the wonders for which we make a blessing.
The Talmud tells us that a solar eclipse is a bad omen for the entire world, which runs according to the solar calendar, and a lunar eclipse is considered a bad sign for the Jewish nation, who calculate the duration of months according to the cycles of the moon. Thus the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, points out that eclipses should be opportunities to increase in prayer and introspection—as opposed to prompting joyous blessings. In fact, there are those who have the custom to fast after seeing a lunar eclipse, because it is a sign that we really could and should be doing better.
Now, you, I and the Jewish sages of old all have known for a very long time that eclipses are natural events that can be predicted thousands of years in advance. Thus we can be quite certain that their statement does not mean that eclipses are results of ill behavior. Rather, an additional result of the celestial positioning that causes an eclipse is that certain people are especially prone to sin and punishment. This is not unlike the Talmudic teaching that people born under certain Zodiac signs are likely to follow certain paths. These factors do not take away of free will, but they do give us a propensity that we can and must overcome.