What the Eclipse Taught Me About the High Holy Days
Every year my family and I go on a summer road trip. This year we chose to travel to Casper, Wyoming to experience the Totality of the Great American Solar Eclipse, 2 minutes and 26 seconds when the moon totally covers the sun. The temperature drops, the birds go silent, night falls, the stars come out and you have a 360 degree panorama of sunset. It is nothing less than a physical encounter with God.
We viewed the eclipse with a gathering of both veteran and amateur astronomers. These astronomers taught my family more about the universe’s planetary system in three hours than we could have otherwise learned in a lifetime.
The tension was mounting as we counted down the seconds to experience the unimaginable. With 80 percent of the sun being covered by the moon, we could feel the temperatures dropping and the wind picking up. At 90 percent we could sense the sunlight growing weaker like a winter day in the late afternoon. With a minute to go until Totality we noticed the western horizon darkening as a giant shadow raced towards us. It was impossible to see the leading edge of the 1720 mile-an-hour moon shadow as it engulfed us.
And then all at once the crowd roared “ooh” and “aah” as the moon completely covered the sun in the most spectacular sight I have ever seen in my life.
The moon, physically invisible up until now, was perfectly positioned over the sun as white wispy streams of light poured out of the entire 360° circumference of the sun beyond the edges of the darkened moon. It seemed as if it took up the whole sky.
The stars came out, along with Venus and Saturn. We were living Totality! It was the fastest and most spectacular 2 minutes and 26 seconds of my life.
We didn’t want it to end. Like the shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur Day at the Neilah service when you just want to forever hold onto your breakthrough to God and His loving embrace.
It was a paranormal experience. Despite all my preparation for this instant, it was totally surreal. Everyone around us was in an altered state. Stunned. Euphoric. Holding onto the moment. Even the veteran eclipse chasers were overcome with awe. I felt like I was getting a glimpse of God revealing His presence on Earth.
The astronomers told us that before you go into Totality you have to have a plan. How would you make the most of the 146 seconds? What are you going to see, record, and think? Everybody had to know how to budget their time. Do we do that in life every 146 seconds? Shouldn’t we? Most of the time we don’t use our time this planned out, assuming for sure we will get another 146 seconds, hours, days or months.
I wish I could always be in this state of mind of total reality. No one was daydreaming. Smart phones were out of view.
I also made it a point of saying the Shema. I wanted to lock in this moment forever and anchor it to my relationship with God. I looked at my children and wife, Rochel. They were in their own world trying to process this.
We wanted to grab this for eternity. I will never let this moment go and will always thank God for it. But in truth God gives us Totality every second with all the blessings that fill our lives if we would just stop and consider.
Today God gave us a rare gift from on high. I hope to take it with me to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, into my Sukkah, and for the rest of my life!
I want every day to be Totality with my Creator. I want to be aware. I never want to daydream, rather to be excited by life always. I want to be striving for things that are so important and meaningful that pettiness and disappointment have no space in my mind.
The eclipse taught me that you can have the sun, moon and earth on different orbits and in a rare synchronistic moment, they create a phenomenon that seems beyond probability.
So too in our lives when we are challenged and trying to solve so many dilemmas. After much effort the moving pieces all come together in a harmonious solution that is beyond our imagination. In fact, sometimes we look back on our lives and come to realize that certain situations have resolved themselves, eclipsing the issue we were so worried about.
Isn’t that the ultimate message of the Days of Awe? At-one-moment – atonement! May you too reach Totality in your life.
Rabbi Aryeh Markman is Co-Director, The Western Wall Experience and Executive Director, Aish LA. Reprinted with permission from aish.com.