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The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything one sees should be a lesson in life. Certainly this includes such a global phenomenon as a solar eclipse! So what is the lesson?

Thank you Chayala Neuhaus for the lyrics, Doni Gross for the production, and Osniel Rosen for the challenge!

(Essay by my dear brother Eli)

This Shabbat we read a special section from the Torah called Parshat Hachodesh. It is the story of the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, that we track, observe and celebrate the new moon each and every month.

Since the day that G-d commanded Moshe regarding this Mitzvah, two weeks before the grand Exodus from Egyptian slavery, we have kept a close eye on the moon, looking out for that celestial monthly moment of rebirth that G-d showed Moshe that early evening in Egypt.

In the Torah, our holidays – Passover, Sukkot, Yom Kippur etc. – are prescribed to happen on a certain day following the new moon: “the fifteenth day after the new moon”, “the tenth day after the new moon” and so on. Meaning, that if we wish to celebrate these festivals, we need to keep track of the lunar cycle, even if no one else on earth gives it a second thought.

Along the way, we’ve come to identify with the moon.

We can empathize with the moon’s ups and downs, so similar to our own history. One moment we’re shining bright, the next moment we’re so oppressed and persecuted that casual observers have often written us off, predicting our extinction, G-d forbid. And yet the next moment, to their disbelief, we’re back, reborn out of the darkness, and growing stronger every day.

It’s notable that G-d interrupted the flow of events leading up to the Exodus to tell Moshe about Rosh Chodesh. Not only because it seems to be unrelated to what was happening then, but also because by giving that Mitzvah right then, it meant that it would given in Egypt, the darkest spiritual locale in the world. G-d could have waited a couple of weeks until we were out of that spiritual wasteland and told us about Rosh Chodesh in the desert. Why the rush?

Everyone’s talking about the eclipse happening Monday afternoon – The Great North American Eclipse. It’s a major event that will have millions of people looking up to the Heavens, an event that will not happen again in the USA until 2044.

Now, solar eclipses only happen around the new moon. Monday night and Tuesday, Jews will observe Rosh Chodesh. And not just any Rosh Chodesh, but the annual Rosh Chodesh of all Rosh Chodeshes – the first Rosh Chodesh of the year. This means that Monday is the day before rebirth, the day when the moon is at its very lowest, darkest point, the moment that symbolizes the most difficult, challenging times of the Jewish People.

And so it turns out, that precisely in its smallest, weakest moment, the moon looms largest: it can even eclipse the mighty light of the sun.

Is this not our story exactly? Is this not precisely why G-d told this to Moshe in Egypt, in our place of misery and suffering? During the last new moon of our centuries-long sojourn in Egypt, G-d shows Moshe the truth about the miracle of Jewish rebirth and eternity. In the place of our pain, before the redemption, in the midst of the uncertainty, G-d stops everything and tells us to look up at the moon, see our story in the moon’s story, and discover in the moon a solid friend, an eternal gentle reminder that it will be okay, that no matter what, Am Yisrael Chai forever.

And better yet, as Monday’s eclipse shows, our darkest moments are when we shine brightest and loom largest, as we begin the great turnaround, the journey from darkness to light.

This Monday will be the 3,336th anniversary of the day G-d showed Moshe the moon.

How perfect. During these painful days, days of insult and injury for Jews everywhere, the sun, 400 times bigger than the moon, is eclipsed by it. Far from tottering or faltering, the Jewish People are stronger than ever, more secure than ever, more influential than ever. Precisely when casual observers report us missing, that’s when we shine.

L’Chaim, brothers and sisters. Our best days lay just ahead. So in the words of the Lecha Dodi which we’ll all be singing in just a few hours:

“Wake up, wake up! Your light is coming, rise and shine! Time to wake up and say your song, because G-d’s glory is revealed upon you.”

Happy Rosh Chodesh!

Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Eli Friedman
Chabad of Calabasas