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An eclipse, in my experience, has always been something that happens rather than something you go to. That changed a few weeks ago when my husband said, “How would you like to go to Cleveland to see the eclipse?” What eclipse? I hadn’t been paying attention to the growing hullabaloo about the total eclipse that was about to unfold in a narrow north-south trajectory across the U.S.

As it happened, that trajectory crossed Cleveland, where my son and his family live. If clear skies hold (never a certainty in Cleveland), we would have a front-row seat. It was decided – we’ll drive the 455 miles and spend Shabbos with the kids.


By Monday, tens of thousands more people were hitting the roads in the hope of reaching an ideal spot for viewing. News articles, viewing guides, travel information and ophthalmological warnings filled the media, but for me it was just pack and go.

Shabbos went from cold to hot and sunny to cloudy and back again. My husband monitored the weather reports, the sky and the position of the sun vis-à-vis trees or other obstacles at the time of day when the eclipse would begin. He is prepared to drive somewhere else if the weather does not cooperate – the next total eclipse will not be visible throughout the U.S. in 2045. One did not want to wait.

Monday dawns cloudy. Rain is possible.

8:52 a.m. No rain but a light cloud cover creates a pearly gray sky that could go either way.

10:07 a.m. Emerging from the clouds, a ribbon of bright blue, something like Crayola crayon periwinkle, is expanding into the white puffs of cloud above.

The sky yields no further secrets as the day turns summer-like under a brilliant sun.

2:40 p.m. Taking our places in the backyard, we put on our eclipse glasses. The sun is now a flattened disk with defined edges. In the lower right quadrant, the beginning of a small black circle is slowly eating away at the brightness. Soon the sun is more like a crescent, a cartoon cantaloupe-colored slice of light in a very deep indigo sea.

Here below, the light is still unchanged. The sun, now banana colored, attenuates rapidly. Nearby a dog is barking. The sun attenuates rapidly and there is a change in the air itself, dimming ever so slightly.

There is a shift. Is it a good omen or a bad omen? People have had a lot to say, offering opinions ranging from the eclipse being an apocalyptic harbinger of the end of the world, a demonstration of the hand of G-d, a scientific coincidence of time and place, a glorious moment that unites people in a shared moment of awe, and, at the polar extreme of idiocy – the result of global warming.

A Jewish interpretation is based on Rashi (Genesis 1:14): “When the heavenly luminaries are eclipsed it is a sign of ill-omen for the world, as it is written (Jeremiah 10:2) ‘Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven’ – when you carry out the will of the Holy One, blessed be He, you need apprehend no calamity” (Sukkah 29a). Thus an eclipse is a time of severity and therefore an opportune time for teshuvah and introspection.

Yet the sun is also said to symbolize the gentile nations, who follow a solar calendar, while the moon symbolizes the fate of the Jewish people, whose fate waxes and wanes as does the moon each month. When one falls, the other rises. As I watched the moon darken the sun, eating away at its brilliance in an inexorable expansion, I am thinking that this must be the time for the Jewish people to rise. As this celestial phenomenon inches toward totality surely it means that it is time for Bnei Yisrael to rise, to proclaim G-d’s glory and achieve total victory over our enemies, as inexorably as the moon inches toward totality.

2:52 p.m. Ever more attenuated, the sun clings to its place.

2:56 p.m. The sun, a narrow, palest banana, hugs the disks’s rim at the upper left of the disk.

One who is attentive to the quality of light might now notice a darkening of the atmosphere in a strange unearthly twilight even as the sun shines brightly in spots, casting shadows on the ground and illuminating faces around me. The temperature has dropped.

3:13 p.m. Totality. The solar disk succumbs entirely, becoming entirely black. Through our glasses we see how the sun’s corona has turned into a white ring surrounding a black circle.

Bam! Nothing has prepared one for this; 99.9 percent eclipse bears no relation to 100 percent and it is like nothing I have ever seen. It is a complete disconnect.

Eclipse totality was the visible representation of a radical switch from one reality to another without any obvious relation to what came before.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that we must learn from everything we see. Unexpectedly, seeing through eclipse glasses taught me something tangible about how change can work and especially how the unfolding of Jewish history is a trajectory along a path that leads to a radical switch.

More than 30 years ago the Lubavitcher Rebbe told us that the coming of Mashiach was imminent, and moreover that we should “open our eyes” to see how the galus was being transformed into geulah. I confess to wondering how my eyes had that ability or could ever perform that optical trick.

Totality was a glimpse of what the Rebbe and so many others were saying all along, that the geulah is happening, inexorably, sometimes naturally, sometimes with miraculous openings into a new reality and sometimes with tragedies and seeming setbacks. Without the special glasses of emunah and bitachon, one easily misses the underlying reality.

Unlike a solar eclipse, which is pinpointed in time with minute accuracy, no one knows when we’ll have the complete revelation of Mashiach. But when it happens, our reality will change. Rambam says that in the first stage of geulah the only difference will be that the Jewish people will no longer be subservient to the nations of the world. But eclipse totality has shown me that when the moon covers the sun, the old paradigm of the world disappears. We’ve been getting ready for a long time, but totality will be a complete surprise. As the Sages say, it will be “hesech hada’as” – when we’re not looking. May it be immediately and may we merit to see it.

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Tzivia Emmer, a personal historian, helps bring the branches of a family tree to life with stories and memories. For information visit