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Do We Say a Blessing for the Solar Eclipse?

Do We Say a Blessing for the Solar Eclipse?

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Question

I have been reading articles about the upcoming solar eclipse. It is being billed as the first solar eclipse in over a century that will be visible in the the contiguous United States. Some claim that eclipses are a bad omen of things to come.

In light of this, what is the Jewish perspective on eclipses?

Also, is there any blessing recited upon witnessing an eclipse? I found blessings for all sorts of phenomena such as lightning, thunder, rainbows and earthquakes, but I see no such blessing for witnessing an eclipse?

Reply

The sages of the Talmud state:

When the luminaries are stricken, it is an ill omen for the world. To what can we compare this? To a king of flesh and blood who prepared a feast for his servants and set a lantern to illuminate the hall. But then he became angry with them and said to his servant: “Take the lantern from before them and seat them in darkness.”1

The Talmud then goes on to describe the particular sins for which the luminaries are “stricken.”

Natural Phenomenon or Bad Omen?

Now that’s puzzling.

The predictability of eclipses was already well known in Talmudic times (the Talmud was completed in the 5th century in Babylonia). And aside from the prevalent scientific knowledge of the day, the sages of the Talmud were well aware of how to calculate eclipses due to their meticulous and complex astronomical calculations for sanctifying the new Jewish month. (Trivia: A solar eclipse can only occur around the time of a new month on the Jewish lunar calendar.)

This leads to the obvious question: How could the sages of the Talmud state that an eclipse is a bad omen caused by our sins? They knew that an eclipse is predictable. But they also certainly believed that sins are not predictable!

To make things yet more puzzling, the Midrash Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer—which predates the Talmud—takes both sides of the coin: that eclipses are both a natural astronomical phenomenon as well as a bad sign!2

Eclipses or Sunspots?

Some, most notably Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz (1690–1764) in his work Ya’arot Devash, explain that the Talmud’s mention of “stricken luminaries” does not refer to eclipses, but rather sunspots and other such phenomena that darken the sun and do not have a pre-set schedule or determinable cause.3

While this makes for an intriguing theory, there are a number of difficulties with this explanation. For one thing, the Talmud speaks about the moon being “stricken” as well, not just the sun. For another, sunspots themselves are predictable.

Additionally, in the analogy the Talmud provides, the king says, “Remove the lantern from them and let them sit in the dark,” i.e., the luminaries being “stricken” results in our sitting in darkness.4

Constellations and a Predisposition for Good or Bad

The most simple explanation: An eclipse is not caused by sin. Rather, it is an indication of a trying time, a time when there is a natural predisposition for sin, and for strict judgment of that sin.5

Time, in traditional thought, is not homogeneous. The Talmud provides many other examples of the good and bad seasons of time. Certain times are a better opportunity to take specific action. “Most of a person’s wisdom is achieved only at night.”6 Similarly, the early morning is considered an auspicious time for prayer to be received. Being born at certain times creates a predilection for a specific mode of behavior—for good or for the opposite.

Obviously, this does not contradict a fundamental principle of Jewish thought, that human beings have free will. “Freedom is granted to every person,”7 states the Mishnah, whether to be righteous or the opposite.

If so, it is impossible that your innate predisposition should draw you immutably to good or bad; rather, the sign under which you are born merely creates within you a proclivity toward certain behaviors. With effort, you can overcome your natural tendencies, and even transform them.

The same is true regarding eclipses and other “signs in the heavens.” When G‑d created the world, He created signs in the heavens for people to be aware of times when there would be a greater predisposition for sin and punishment. The eclipse itself does not necessarily mean that people will act on that predisposition and actually sin, thereby causing punishment. Rather, it is a generous warning: Take care at this time. Put more effort into doing good. Avoid situations that may tax your moral fortitude.

No Blessing …

In light of the above we can understand why you were unable to find any blessing for witnessing an eclipse. The Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—explains that since eclipses are meant to be opportunities for increasing in prayer and introspection—as opposed to prompting joyous blessings, we do not recite a blessing when witnessing one.8

… But No Fear

In the creation story at the beginning of the book of Genesis,9 the Torah states, “And G‑d said, "Let there be luminaries in the expanse of the heavens … and they shall be for signs and for appointed seasons and for days and years.” The classic commentaries explain that “they shall be for signs” is a reference to eclipses.10 Thus, we learn that these phenomena are meant to be a sign for us.

At the same time, the prophet Jeremiah proclaims, “Hearken to the word that the L‑rd spoke about you, O house of Israel . . . So says the L‑rd: ‘Of the way of the nations you shall not learn, and from the signs of the heaven be not dismayed…’”11

In other words, these are indeed “signs in the heavens,” yet the prophet tells us that we should not fear them, for, as the sages of the Talmud explain, as long as one acts properly, there is nothing to fear.

See Also

Footnotes
1.
Talmud, Sukkah 29a.
2.
See Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 7.
3.
Ya’arot Devash 2, derush 10 (derush on 25th of Elul).
4.
See Likutei Sichot, vol. 15, p. 7, fn. 6.
5.
See Iyun Yaakov on Ein Yaakov, Sukkah 29a; Aruch LaNer, Sukkah, ibid.; Ma’amar Shnei HaMe’orot from Rabbi Isaac “Homler”; Likkutei Sichot, vol. 15, p. 10.
6.
Maimonides, Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:13.
7.
See Talmud Berochot 33b; Maimonides, Hilchot Teshuvah 5:1.
8.
Igrot Kodesh 15:5579.
10.
See Rashi, ad loc.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Anonymous August 27, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse across the entire US---8-21-17. Unprecedented, catastophic, historic flooding (perhaps the worst in American History) happening right now in Houston---8-27-17. Bad Omen? Reply

Lawrence Iowa August 23, 2017

Googled "eclipse May 16,2344 BCE"--Noah's 365 day solar flood year ended May 13.

Eclipse occurred sunrise Ziv 30. Gene Faulstich writes about it in Bible Chronology and The Scientific Method.

"Eliyahu ben David - 2007 - ‎Religion
May 14, 2345 B.C., exactly. ... events surrounding the Flood due to a solar eclipse which occurred at sunrise on May 16, 2344 B.C. - when he observed a bow in ..." Reply

Vicki Stone Portland August 22, 2017

I think it was amazing that in a time of instant gratification, cell phones, tv (we watch) videos, etc. etc. that we humans were still fascinated by a natural event. I accept it is a warning for potential sin. Reply

Jan Thompson Green Valley AZ. August 22, 2017

Excellent article. It is perfectly logical to me that G-d would do things this way. Thank for explaining this! Jan T. Reply

Pat Weller Michgan August 22, 2017

G-d treated us to something grand.For a little while we watched the eclipse in unity and awe.What a gift. No explanation needed, just nature doing it's thing Before we lay down to sleep say, Thank You G-d, you really know how to put on a show. Reply

Don Weinshank 48823 August 21, 2017

sunspots 1611 Sorry but sunspots were discovered in 1611 by Galileo and another astronomer who projected images onto paper. Eclipses were well known in the ancient world.

The best blessing is

Mah gadlu ma-asecha yah
Mi'od amku machshevotecha

Which recognizes the subtlety of God's thoughts Reply

Mair Zvi August 21, 2017

An eclipse send a veiled message about the wisdom of HaKodosh Baruch Hu.
When an observer on Earth sees a total solar (or lunar) eclipse, at the moment of total eclipse, the size (diameter) of both the sun and moon are exactly the same. Just like one silver dollar covering another.
Now, we all know the sun is much larger than the moon and much farther from the Earth. Yet both spheres are placed precisely in the Heavens that they appear the same size.
What are the odds that this phenomenon is a random, haphazard, lucky chance event? Or does it demonstrate the plan and purpose of a vast, and Intelligent Creator?
King David, in Psalm 19 wrote, "The Heavens declare the Glory of G-d and the Firmament displays His handiwork."
I believe that King David may perhaps have had an eclipse in mind when he wrote that Psalm. Reply

Steven Nelson SAINT PETERSBURG August 21, 2017

As a painful comer to being a witness to ancient science, and being asked by students at the University what all of these missives are reflective of, I frequently respond that we must spend some deep time in reflective thoughts as we begin our slumbers into the Arms of Morpheus. Do we find ourselves willing to help this Earth move forward, or do we just take up space and look for pleasure only models?

Steve Reply

Eunice August 21, 2017

God, our creator is responsible for all the movements in the heavens, and gives us signs and seasons to draw closer to God. Pay attention and seek the Lord! Reply

johny abreu Milledgeville August 21, 2017

truly precise Reply

Rena Wolfman Toronto August 21, 2017

Thank you for a thought provoking article and the discussion that followed!
From what I remember reading about eclipses is that this phenomena caused a lot of fear in people throughout history which I can understand because it's something we have no control over
But I think it's Hashem's way of reminding us "who's the boss" ! For me it just strengthens my "bitachon"
בטחון in him just as he placed the luminaries in the sky he will for sure bring us Mosiach!! Reply

Al Catraz August 21, 2017
in response to Rena Wolfman:

True!
But just a note... the word בטחון is not the proper word, Hebrew-wise, although used by every Israeli. the word means security, yes you feel secured. But I think it is faith אמונה באל that is strengthened, the knowledge He's there! Reply

Bob Blackshear Georegtown, Texas August 21, 2017
in response to Rena Wolfman:

Add a comment...

Solar eclipses have not always brought about destructive results for those whose path it crossed. However, the solar eclipse witnessed by Nineveh (Mosul today) in Jonah's day did bring about a blessing in a sort of indirect way. Cuneiform tablets have been found , which signified that Nineveh had a plague around three years before Noah came. The next year, there was a civil war, perhaps caused by factions which blamed the others for causing the plague. The next year, there was another plague, followed by a solar eclipse, which can be corroborated by NASA. Not long after that Noah showed up with God's message to repent, which they did; thus Nineveh was spared. Was that a blessing or what?!

On the other hand, in 1914, there was a solar eclipse on Elul 1 across eastern Europe all the way through the Ottoman Empire. Yes, the First World War.

Lunar eclipses are generally for Israel, and Solar eclipses are generally for the nations, as far as signs are concerned. Reply

Cheri942 August 22, 2017
in response to Bob Blackshear:

Did you Jonah, the prophet. I think you made a mistake saying Noah. Reply

Rena Wolfman Toronto August 23, 2017
in response to Bob Blackshear:

I agree that solar eclipse doesn't always bring about disasters but people were afraid because naturally
(Because Hashem is not visible in nature to someone who's not searching for him) people believe in what they sense and what they can control! Once you let go of that and understand that there is a higher power that governs the universe and everything has a purpose-you too-and Hashem has a plan.
You know that all the promises to our forefathers will be kept! Reply

Bob Blackshear August 23, 2017
in response to Cheri942:

Add a comment...

Yes, thank you very much. It was indeed Jonah, not Noah. Reply

Yehoshua Hecht Norwalk, CT August 21, 2017

My older brother Harav Hatomim Reb Eli Hecht of Chabad of South Bay CA and I discussed this at length and he proposed the following: there is a danger gazing at the sun and it causes damage to the retina of the eye! So therefore the sages ( Members of the great Assembly) did not establish a blessing for the sun eclipse as there is a Danger to the Eyes when gazing at the sun. The concept in Halacha "danger is even more weighty than something forbidin"
That we are very careful not to put our health at risk.
I humbly suggest that this too is a beautiful answer as to why no blessing was legislated by our Chachomim!
Reply

Alice Jena richmond hill August 21, 2017
in response to Yehoshua Hecht :

do we say a blessing for the eclipse? i love this answer. thank you Reply

Gideon the Netherlands August 21, 2017

so what happend over a century ago during and after the solar eclipse. Something bad? Reply

arthur yanoff August 21, 2017

solar eclipise Interesting, the French writer Honore Balzac wrote," The loin at morning is full of hope, the lion at evening is hungry, but touched with wisdom." Reply

Anonymous July 23, 2017

I have a question. Since eclipses (one solar, one lunar, though not in the same place) have on average happen twice a year, does that mean it is a constant sinful time? I'd doubt a time period like that of Joshua would need such a reminder.

Though I have two reconciliations. A: Reminders are always good. B: This is the natural order, and the natural order is tampered most of the time. Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA, USA July 23, 2017

Interesting footnote to this. Eclipses are the reason that the Hebrew calendar is as accurate as it is. The average length of a month on the Hebrew calendar works out closer to modern measurements of the actual length of the average cycle of the lunar phases than would be possible by measuring lunar phases in Talmudic times (without modern instruments). The only way to have measured the period that accurately would have been to record the exact time of two eclipses several hundred years apart, calculate the difference, and divide by the number of intervening months. Reply

Chanita Brooklyn August 21, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Impossible. Most gedolim ( the really big rabbis) agree that the calendar is from Sinai. Yes there was the visual sighting done every month for as long as we could, but it was only confirmation of known astronomy fr " Moshe mi Sinai. Reply

Lawrence Iowa July 20, 2017

Fast of Tammuz to Eclipse=41 days=July 11-August 21 or Tammuz 17-Ab 29.
Ab 29-Tishri 10=40 days. August 21-September 30

41 days from Fast of Tammuz to eclipse.

40 days from eclipse to Yom Kippur.

Is there a call for fasting like Jonah's?

"Jonah began by going a day's journey into the city, proclaiming, "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown."" Reply

Lawrence Iowa July 26, 2017
in response to Lawrence :

Jonah's preaching Total Eclipse Assyria 6/15/763 BC Reply

Anonymous July 20, 2017

Great article as usual. But please provide bibliographic specificity. I.e tractate name, page, side, etc. instead of just Talmud. And for all your cites. It would reinforce greatly. Thank you and continued success. Reply

Editor August 1, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Detailed references are provided in the footnotes. Reply

zak San Diego July 20, 2017

Add a comment...Gen 1:16 And Elohim made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

For one would know that the greater light is when action is observed and the lesser one is known as sleep (1/600). On this day (night and day/unity as one) of manifestation of light that one observes the might of the first day of revelation. For it is that day which follows night, that you will see and remember (a moment passing by) and rejoice on Him that created you to observe the splendor of the heavens above. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn July 20, 2017

"Being born at certain times creates a predilection for a specific mode of behavior—for good or for the opposite".I was born during Ben hashmoshes what does it mean? thanks. Reply

dave UK July 22, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Astrologically, it may mean you tend to place emphasis on work at the expense of your spouse, or that you combine work with home. Could you let me know if that fits pl? Reply

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