Totality is the whole thing

Just back in Israel from a trip to Madras, Oregon, and the total eclipse of the sun.

August 24, 2017 21:46
3 minute read.

THE BEGINNING of the eclipse over the Atlantic Ocean.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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On Monday, at 10:21 a.m., the world changed for 2 minutes. The sun went black, plasma jets a million degrees hot appeared, snow-covered mountains instantly disappeared and then lit up again brighter than ever, and the 360 degree horizon hosted what can be described as a thousand simultaneous sunsets.

Lighting and shadows took new and unfamiliar forms and the air chilled drastically. Just imagine the whooping and hollering of the thousands of people experiencing the amazing event.

Lots of articles have been published in the lead-up to the eclipse and it seems that most were by journalists who had never experienced a total solar eclipse. The focus was on the special glasses to prevent one from going blind, the partial eclipse in the entire (continental) United States, the sky turning dark and of course the big eclipse parties. None of those is really “the thing.”

Even though Israel will not host a total eclipse of the sun for 163 years and our media certainly have a few other items of interest to discuss, I felt obligated to express myself on this issue.

First of all – everyone reading this should plan on seeing a total eclipse. It is truly an experience of a lifetime. It happens in seemingly random spots on the planet for a few minutes and will not come to you. So plan on being in Argentina in 2019, the US in 2024 or Spain in 2026.

The most important point – 99% is almost worthless compared to the real thing. Many people we bumped into along the way said they are not going to deal with traffic to get to the area of totality, since they would see a 99% partial eclipse.

Wrong! Totality is the whole thing and worth the trip even though it’s just about 2 minutes long. Getting dark in the middle of the day is also no big deal. We have all experienced thunderstorms that do the same.

Miri, a professional photographer on the trip with us, saw lighting and shadows she had never seen before.

That is a big deal.

Next point – the media need to find the dark side of the event, so they write about the fear of blindness.

There is nothing about the light or radiation from an eclipsing sun that is different from the everyday sun. If you stare directly into the sun today you may damage your eyes. So naturally, you never do that. You would not do that during the partial phase of the eclipse, either. And if you did, you would see a pretty normal sun. The only way you will see the moon taking bites out of the sun is with the special glasses. But you won’t go blind. Just don’t stare into the sun. Duh! Traffic – 100,000 people, many in RV’s and campers leaving a small Oregon town at exactly the same time on the only two roads leading out of town, created a traffic jam worse than any in New York or Tel Aviv that I recall.

Worse than a jackknifed tractor- trailer in the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River or a presidential visit to the Knesset. Waze was off by five hours. Google did no better. Even though people were missing their flights, nobody complained, nobody cut in and out. A traffic jam is a small price to pay for an experience of a lifetime.

And a halachic slant. Making small talk at the airport, I asked a Chabad rabbi what blessing to say.

A rainbow qualifies for a blessing, so does a visit of a Nobel Prize winner.

The answer is – none. Turns out the Talmud says that an eclipse is a bad omen, so don’t bless it.

And the fact is that there was a total eclipse of the sun in Jerusalem in the year 30 CE. So, we were not going to argue with the Talmud.

Taking some unqualified halachic license, I bought a new kind of fruit and made a Shehecheyanu blessing.

Check with your local rabbi on that.

The eclipse has only one enemy – clouds. One poorly placed cloud ruins the whole thing. So, find a place that has high probability of clear skies, nice 360 degree views and a snow covered mountain in the distance.

See you on July 2, 2019, in Argentina!

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