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April 5, 2024

Look Up and Remember

Daniel Mutlu

Look Up and Remember
Cantor Dan Mutlu

With all the excitement surrounding the solar eclipse this Monday, I’m reminded of my childhood obsession with astronomy. My father’s home office was in the sunroom of our house, equipped with a powerful telescope and loads of fascinating books on stars, planets, and constellations.

There was a particular excerpt in one of my father’s astronomy books that really stuck with me–mainly because of how freaked out I became when reading it. It was a future time-lapse of the sun, showing how over the course of the next 5 billion years our star would enter its red-giant phase, expanding up to 1000 times in size, completely engulfing Mercury, Venus and yes, even our planet.

Now I knew that 5 billion years from then was a very, very long time, and that I wouldn’t be around to experience the horror of our planet and solar system’s demise. But I was nonetheless dismayed at the thought that humanity’s brilliant and beautiful home was ultimately doomed.

We know that this is how people in ancient times felt when they witnessed a solar eclipse. In fact, many of our rabbis of old wrote about the phenomenon as a bearer of bad omens, particularly for us Jews. Even the prophet Amos writes about an eclipse he witnessed as being punishment to the people for not helping the needy and the poor.

Now today, when a solar eclipse comes by, we hear about it for weeks in advance, with tons of time to get to the grocery store and stock up on guacamole and chips to enjoy the show.

We are no longer worried about the meaning behind this awesome sight. But that doesn’t mean we are not worried about our future.

On the contrary, it feels that there are more reasons to be concerned than ever before. We Jews fear for the future of the State of Israel–with a war raging on its borders to the political unrest within. We are increasingly concerned with the rising trend of antisemitism, in this country and globally. And we are worried that Jewish affiliation and self-identity are consistently dropping.

So where can we turn to for hope?

Maybe the answer is in the awe-inspiring eclipse itself.

Scholars and scientists have hypothesized that the earliest written account of a solar eclipse is recorded in none other than the Book of Joshua. By looking at the paths of past solar eclipses in the region, scientists have been able to pinpoint an exact date for this eclipse: October 30, 1207, BCE, nearly 3,231 years ago.

The famous event occurs during a battle between five armies and the people of Gibeon. Joshua vows to protect the Gibeonites and sings a prayer to God asking for the sun and the moon to stay still in the sky. The celestial event proves pivotal in Joshua’s campaign, and he is ultimately victorious.

But the lesson here is that Joshua’s success doesn’t come from magic or last-minute help from God. God tells Joshua multiple times at the start of the book to remain strong and courageous, chazak v’ematz. Indeed, these are also among Moses’s final words to him, because what Joshua was about to do–fulfill his destiny to make a home for the Jewish people–would necessitate lots of both. God doesn’t command Joshua to be strong so many times because God is worried he might not make it, rather it is because this is Joshua’s identity and destiny, one of perseverance and fortitude.

As Jews, perhaps our greatest hope is that what we cherish in our lifetime will be honored and replicated by our children and their children, and that it will be further enriched, developed and built upon. We reject the notion that there is an end to our existence. No matter how bad things seem to get and no matter what the prediction, we must defiantly say to each other: chazak v’ematz, be strong and courageous, because that’s the only way forward.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to be in the path of the solar eclipse on Monday, maybe we will look up (with protective eyewear of course) and not only marvel at something that can be explained by science, but also remember that God still shows us that when things seem to turn dark all around us, the only way forward is by holding close the teachings, words, and faith that have brought us this far.

Watch our sermon above or on Youtube, listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or read the transcript above.