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The Kabbalah of the Solar Eclipse

The Kabbalah of the Solar Eclipse

In each of us there shines a bright sun. In each of us there is a time of its eclipse.

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The Solar Eclipse Within

If you can observe it, recognize it and understand it, it must be found somewhere within you.

Yet more: Anything you observe is teaching you something about something inside of you. Something vital for your Divine mission here on earth.

Yet more: The truth of each thing is the lesson it comes to teach you. Because if a thing enters your world, there could be only one reason: So that your soul could better fulfill the mission for which it is sent to this place.

If so, if there is anything you want to understand to its depths, you must first find it within yourself and listen to what it is teaching you. And the Torah is your guide to finding it there.

So here’sWhere is the solar eclipse within your life? the question of the day as the solar eclipse makes its way across America on August 21, capturing a nation’s attention: Where is the solar eclipse within your life, and within your life’s mission?

The Song of the Sun

Perek Shirah is a Midrash that describes the song of each creation as it praises its Creator—from the song of heaven and the song of earth, to the song of the waves of the sea, the rooster, the crane, and even the lowly rat. Each sings a verse from Tanach, each song appropriate to its character.

Indeed, the kabbalists tell us that the song of each being is its life-force, the Divine energy that brings it into being and endows it with its nature.

Of what does the sun sing?

Of the time of its eclipse:1

The Sun is saying: “The sun, when covered by the moon, stood in its abode; they walk to the light of your arrows, and by the shine of your glittering spear.”2

Why would the sun sing about its eclipse? Let it sing about its great light, its warmth, how it makes possible all the life of our planet.

Rabbi Moshe ben Yosef di Trani (known by the acronym of his name “Mabit”), a halachist and kabbalist of Tzfat in the 16th century, explains:

The sun sings its praises to G‑d for the bad just as it does for the good. Even as it is struck by the moon standing before it, blocking its light, the sun remains in its place with all its light. It is only that the moon interposes between us and that light.

The moon, on the other hand, is not that way. When the earth stands between it and the sun, it has no light, for all its light is from the sun.

Wonderful. Everything is for the good—only that from our limited perspective we can’t always see the good that is there.As the sages of the Talmud say, “Just as you must make a blessing for good tidings, so you must make one for bad tidings.”3 And they explain that this means you should accept it with joy.4 Why? Because “this is also for the good.”5 Everything is for the good—only that from our limited perspective we can’t always see the good that is there.6

Even this eclipse. For thunder, lightning, shooting stars, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc., there’s a blessing to be recited.7 For an eclipse—zilch. And yet, the sun sings, even this is good in truth.

Rabbi Moshe di Trani goes on to explain the words of the sun’s song this way:

At the time of the eclipse, the sun “stands in its abode,” shining just the same—unlike the moon—since it gives off its own light.

And even to those that stand in the path of its eclipse, “they walk to the light of your arrows,” they still have some light—the rays and arcs of light that shoot out as arrows at the time of the eclipse.

And for those in the rest of the world for whom the eclipse does not appear, they walk “by the shine of your glittering spear.”

Rabbi Moshe di Trani goes on to describe how the sun experiences an immediate recovery from the eclipse, suffering no scars or wounds, instantly returning to its full glory.

Reading this simply, the interpretation is lovely, but very problematic: If the sun never loses its light, then nothing bad has happened to it. How can we say that it is praising G‑d “for the bad as for the good”?

And we have yet to answer the major question: Why is this the praise that speaks most of the character of the sun?

The truth is, Rabbi Moshe is several steps ahead of us. He has taken his great depth of knowledge and wisdom, and squeezed them tightly into simple words that have meaning to all.

To understand those words, at least a little more deeply, we must first see the sun as its Creator knows it—not as a great gaseous ball of nuclear fusion, but as a key theme in the act of creation, merely reflected in our world as a physical object up in the sky.

A Higher Sun, A Higher Moon

The universe is a parable.8 A parable teaches wisdom by dressing wisdom in metaphor; the universe reveals the Divine wisdom by concealing it within the artifacts of heaven and earth.

Beginning with the power of infinite light, G‑d calls forth existence from the void, and by concealing that light He molds that existence into a world—filtering it, carefully articulating it within tight packets of creative energy by which all things are formed—the Divine words of creation.

Think of a musician playing a stringed instrument, such as a violin or a guitar: One hand causes the strings to vibrate, while the other opens and closes those strings, restricting them to the degree that the music demands.

Or think of an actor, who expresses his creativity by pretending to be that which he is not. Or of the novelist, who must stand back and see his story from the perspective of his characters, as if he were not there.

Creativity and restraint, presence and mystery, light and dark, yes and no—these are the fundamental elements of all creative work.Just as there is no music without the power of restraint, so there is no creation without concealment. Because the archetype of all creativity is the creation of heaven and earth, and heaven and earth are created by a harmony of these opposites.

From within the creation, these two powers can appear as a duality. Some see the story of the universe in this way—a struggle between the powers of light and the powers of darkness. They see evil as a ploy of the powers of darkness, good as a victory of the powers of light.

But a Jew has faith that there is only one Creator of all things, who calls existence into being and then breathes into it life, while all the time remaining a mystery withheld from those beings, so that they might feel themselves as true creations.

And therefore a Jew sees harmony in these opposites. Just as there is no music without the power of restraint, so there is no creation without concealment. And without a creation, to whom will the light shine? Without a creation, who will know their Creator?

In the language of Kabbalah, these are the two levels of the sefirot, za and malchut. On a higher level, they are the two Divine names Havayeh (the four-letter name of G‑d) and Elokim.

This is what Moses meant when he taught us, “Know today and take it to heart: Havayeh is Elokim. There is nothing else.”

Meaning: Meditate deeply upon the harmony and unity of darkness and light, concealment and revelation—to know that they are truly one. Then you will realize that there is truly nothing else but G‑d. For even the darkness is G‑d.9

As Two Loving Parents To Planet Earth

Within the physical world, these two elements find their most exquisite expressions as the sun and the moon.

The sun speaks of the Creator’s power to create,The sun speaks of the Creator’s power to create. The moon speaks of His power to conceal Himself within His creation. to provide energy, to give life.

The moon speaks of the Creator’s power to conceal Himself within His creation, to remain mysterious, to dwell in darkness so that the world looks and feels like a real world.

And see how they work together in wondrous harmony: The sun shines its great light and warmth upon our planet, but it is the moon that enables us to receive that light and live from it.

The moon’s gravity pulls our oceans’ tides, moving heat outward from the equator toward the poles. It creates undersea currents to circulate that heat to the furthest regions. Its mighty mass stabilizes our planet’s axis and slows its rotation, so that both seasons and days are neither too extreme nor too mild.10

As two parents to a child, so the sun and the moon nurture life on planet Earth.

Shining in the Darkness

Yet now, at the time of the solar eclipse, the moon comes to dominate over the sun. It does more than regulate its great energy—it blocks its light.

And this is Rabbi Moshe’s point: The sun itself is not affected. There really is no concealment at all. It is only from our perspective that G‑d’s light is hidden. G‑d is here, exactly the same as before the world came into being. All this descent and filtering of light does not affect Him in the slightest.

Go back to the analogy of a parable. When a teacher tells a parable, the student hears a nice story. Eventually, we hope, he discovers the teaching within the story. But to the teacher, there is only the teaching—that is all he sees, in every detail of the parable.

So for G‑d, all that is here now is the same infinite light that was here before creation began.

Everybody agrees that G‑d Himself is here.Everyone agrees that G‑d is here—seemingly somewhat like a stealth police vehicle with all the lights turned off. Truth is, the lights are glaring—we just can’t see them. He’s everywhere. But it seems that His presence is somewhat like a stealth police vehicle with all the lights turned off.

But the truth is that no, all the light is on—His infinite light, here, now, with us, in our world, providing infinite information of His presence. It’s just that we are not yet capable of perceiving that light—we would lose all sense of existence if we did.

Not until a time soon to come, when our physical eyes, and the entire physical world, will be refined to the point that we will be capable of absorbing that light and remaining self-sentient beings within its glow.

Now find the solar eclipse within you. Within each of us, as well, there is a great light that never ceases to shine. As we say each morning, “G‑d, the soul You have placed within me is pure.”11 And in Song of Songs: “Mighty waters cannot extinguish the love, and rivers cannot inundate it.”12

Just as it is certain that behind the moon the sun still shines, so it is certain that within each of us burns a Divine fire.

You can run away and hide, you can try to forget, you can deny everything—but just as a child can never lose the love for a parent, immeasurably more so, the soul inside us can never lose its unconditional love for G‑d.

“For darkness will cover the earth, and a thick darkness to the nations, but upon you G‑d will shine.”13

Staring at the Sun with the Naked Eye

That provides a glimpse into the fuller meaning of Rabbi Moshe di Trani’s interpretation. Now we understand why the eclipse best brings out the greatness of the sun—because we are speaking of a light that is never extinguished, and that is what we see best at the time of the eclipse.

Our other question, however, still remains unanswered. If the sun is shines just the same at the time of its eclipse, how does this teach us to give thanks for the bad as for the good?

I haven’t seen the following anywhere—I may be completely off track. But I can try to provide an answer:

Here is the irony of the solar eclipse.Here is the irony of the solar eclipse: It’s the only time we get to look at the sun. We bask in the sun’s rays all day. Yet this is the only time—and only for the short period of its totality—that we are able to stare at the sun with our naked eye.

At any other time or place—even the moment immediately before the eclipse or after it, even a few degrees off the narrow “band of totality”—a short glimpse of the sun can be literally blinding. Don’t do it without special glasses or equipment.

But for those two minutes or so, humanity has its only opportunity to behold the sun eye to eye. In fact, if it were not for the eclipse, it is doubtful that we would ever understand a thing about the sun.

Yet more: It is the only time when we can see the darkness of the moon, clearly, even in midday.

Meaning: At all other times, we bask in the sun’s light. At the time of the eclipse, we can stare at the sun itself.

As it turns out, the moon’s darkness hides the light, only to reveal the sun.

So, too, the darkness of this world hides the light, so that G‑d Himself can be revealed—through our labor in that darkness, our mitzvahs and our seeking out G‑d with all our heart despite every challenge.

The angels have light—they have little free choice, for they see only the truth. We who struggle in darkness, who must choose light on our own accord, we touch G‑d Himself.

The Solar Eclipse Within

In simple terms, for each of us:

There are times when light shines down upon us. We need neither struggle nor search. It is the daytime of our lives.

And then, “You bring on darkness, and it is night, when all the wild things of the forest creep forth.”14 In the darkness, each movement becomes a struggle. Nothing can be found without grappling to search. The world becomes a threatening, thick forest of confusion.

That is when we are forced to find our own inner light, a light that never fades nor flickers, but only hides behind the barriers we ourselves have set for it.It’s in the eclipses of our life that we discover G‑d Himself shining within us. Now, in the eclipses of our life, we uncover that light, and discover that it is G‑d Himself that shines within us.

And so it is the sun that teaches us to make a blessing for the good as we do for that which appears not so good. Because who knows better than the source of light that darkness, too, is good?

Indeed, there no good and evil. “From the mouth of the One Above there does not descend the good and the bad.”15 There is only good and very good. For it is this time of darkness that allows us to stare the Source of all good in the face, with the naked eye.

Soon will be a time when the darkness will shine openly, when all pain and suffering will transform to good, and the nighttimes of our life will endure only as memories of even greater good. As Isaiah describes in the metaphor of his vision:

The light of the moon shall be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold as the light of the seven days [of creation], on the day that G‑d will bind the fracture of His people, and the stroke of their wound He shall heal.16

May this solar eclipse be the harbinger of the realization of that vision, and may it come sooner than we can imagine.

See Also

Footnotes
1.
Perek Shirah 2:3.
2.
Habakkuk 3:11. The translation here follows that of Rabbi Moshe di Trani in his commentary to Perek Shirah.
3.
Mishnah, Berachot 9:5.
4.
Talmud, Berachot 60b.
5.
Ibid.
6.
See Tanya, Likkutei Amarim, chapter 26; op. cit., Iggeret HaKodesh, Epistle 11.
7.
Talmud, ibid.
8.
For a lengthy explanation of this topic, see Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch, Veyadata 5657.
9.
See Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, chs. 4 and 6.
10.
See D. Waltham, “Anthropic Selection for the Moon’s Mass,” Astrobiology 4 (2004): 460–468; W. Munk and C. Wunsch, “Abyssal Recipes II,” Deep-Sea Research 45 (1998): 1976–2009, confirmed by G. D. Egbert and R. D. Ray, “Significant dissipation of tidal energy in the deep ocean inferred from satellite altimeter data,” Nature 405 (2000): 775–778.
11.
Morning liturgy.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Avis Carey Det August 24, 2017

Thank You for that insightful revelation. I was quite moved Reply

Pam Israel August 22, 2017

Excellent! Todah! Reply

mendel gurary August 21, 2017

This is a beautiful article. The idea expounded in the first half can be also found in the sicha of 24 elul 5751.
The second part of the article explaining why the sun is blinding at the time of the eclipse.
you explained is because the light of the sun is covered this gives us the opportunity to gaze at the sun itself.
and the same applies at a time of spiritual darkness of light we connect to the essence of hashem.

according to my understanding we can never see the sun itself even at the time of the eclipse it is only the ray of the sun that we can see.
and the reason why it is blinding is not because we can the sun itself. rather because our eyes can look at the ray of the sun for longer being covered mostly and looking at the ray of the sun for a long time is harmful. in other words it is not that the sun revealed itself more. rather we can look longer at it.
this would corespond in the spiritual dimension of the eclipse that we can handle more light not the essence. Reply

Margarita Stein August 21, 2017

brilliant article Reply

Banana Brazil August 21, 2017

Yes I agree. The eclipse can be a metaphor of faith. Reply

Anonymous Boca Raton August 17, 2017

The beauty in the complexity, along with the simplicity. You have made something complicated start to become easier to get.
We can choose light, unlike the angels. By choosing light we become closer to G-d. I think I'm getting it!! Thanks so very much. Reply

Esther Astruc August 17, 2017

An absolutely amazing article! Thank you, this was awesome! Reply

Heather Isaacson Alberta, Canada August 17, 2017

When I am reading an article and looking up all the references. I have figured out that some of the references, I would Have to have a library to look up some. I have been puzzled as to the reference Ibid. How do I understand this reference? There is one in this article. This is a very interesting article. Reply

Gaston Miami, FL August 18, 2017
in response to Heather Isaacson:

Ibid means "in the same source" referring to the last source mentioned avoiding then the repetition of the source. Shabbat Shalom. Reply

Rachael Atl August 19, 2017
in response to Heather Isaacson:

It means see the above reference Reply

Heather Isaacson Alberta, Canada August 21, 2017
in response to Gaston:

Thankyou!
It always puzzled me and will not from now on. Reply

Helen Dudden United Kingdom August 16, 2017

I agree, totally alone. Even to read the above, takes us to that place. Trusting in your beliefs. Reply

Marco Montreal August 16, 2017

Eclipse of our Faith I think the eclipse all believers experience has to do with our faith in God. Are we fulfilling His will or our own. Are we able to to stand with complete faith when the unexplained darkness comes and we are so alone. As obedience is greater than sacrifice if we remain true to G*d and His commandments the darkness departs and the light returns and our faith in God becomes perfected. Reply

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