I am experiencing serious FOMO.

I am totally bummed that I am going to be out of the range on Monday to watch the solar eclipse.

So, let’s talk about Judaism and eclipses.

Are there eclipses in the Bible? Most likely. It is possible that the plague of darkness during the Exodus from Egypt was a total eclipse of the sun. Likewise, when the sun stood still in the book of Joshua, that also might have been an eclipse. There are also references to solar eclipses in medieval Jewish texts, especially as they might have influenced the calculation of the new moon.

But, far more compelling is the idea that God is also in eclipse. The term for that is “hester panim,” the act of God concealing the Divine Presence as a way of punishing the Jewish people.

“The LORD said to Moses: You are soon to lie with your fathers. This people will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them. Then My anger will flare up against them, and I will abandon them and hide My countenance from them. They shall be ready prey; and many evils and troubles shall befall them. And they shall say on that day, “Surely it is because our God is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.” Yet I will keep My countenance hidden on that day, because of all the evil they have done in turning to other gods” (Deut. 31: 16-18).

“You neglected the Rock that begot you, forgot the God who brought you forth. The LORD saw and was vexed, and spurned His sons and His daughters. He said: I will hide My countenance from them, and see how they fare in the end. For they are a treacherous breed, children with no loyalty in them” (Deut. 32: 18-20).

So, yes: When God hides the Divine Presence, it is a punishment — a sign of divine anger, perhaps even passive-aggressive, petulant behavior.

To experience the hidden Presence of God was to experience great terror and anxiety:

“How long, O LORD; will You ignore me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will I have cares on my mind, grief in my heart all day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Look at me, answer me, O LORD, my God! Restore the luster to my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest my enemy say, “I have overcome him,” my foes exult when I totter” (Psalm 13: 2-5).

So, God is in eclipse. It is not that God is not there; it is merely(!) that we cannot sense God’s presence. God is still there; it is simply that God is not palpable.

It is dangerous — to directly experience the hidden nature of God can sear itself into your eyes, and into your soul.

But, perhaps, as a 12th-century French commentator (Bekhor Shor) taught: God hides the Divine Presence — not out of anger but because God cannot bear to see people in pain. It is an act of love and compassion, not a punishment.

All of these texts have one thing in common: God chose to conceal the Divine Presence — either as a punishment for sin or because God cannot tolerate the fact of our suffering.

Let me offer another, perhaps more radical, solution.

In his song “Lover Lover Lover,” written during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the late singer-songwriter-poet Leonard Cohen engages in a dialogue with God. He asks for God, the Lover, to come back to him.

“Then let me start again,” I cried,
“please let me start again,
I want a face that’s fair this time,
I want a spirit that is calm.”

To which God responds:

“I never never turned aside,” he said,
“I never walked away.
It was you who built the temple,
it was you who covered up my face.”

God does not bring on the eclipse of God — neither as punishment nor as painful response to human suffering.

It is actually sinful and violent human action that forces God into retreat — that contributes to the eclipse of the Divine Presence.

As I have learned from my friend and colleague, Rabbi Dennis Ross:

In a 1952 book by the same name, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber likens the eclipse of God to an eclipse of the sun. In a solar eclipse, the moon passes between the earth and sun and the world grows dark and gray. During an Eclipse of God, as during the Holocaust, for instance, people behave in ways that make it hard, if not impossible, for God to be seen.

And, unlike a solar eclipse, that imagined disappearance of God is not momentary. It has been going on for centuries. The biblical epic is the story of God’s gradual disappearance, as biblical scholar Richard Elliott Friedman put it.

God is very present in the Torah. As the biblical narrative develops, God is increasingly silent and decreasingly present — until we get to the book of Esther, whose name itself seems to allude to the hester panim, the hidden nature of God. Finally, as we reach the end of the Hebrew Bible, Nehemiah can only hope that God will remember him: “O my God, remember me favorably for this, and do not blot out the devotion I showed toward the House of God and its attendants” (Nehemiah 13:14).

But, I view the gradual disappearance of God in the Bible — and in human history — not as a punishment, but as an opportunity for human action.

But, here is the good news: a God Who hides is also a God who can be found.

Here is the better news: The events of the recent past may have forced the Divine Presence into eclipse, but there are signs that the Presence could be returning.

Because people are making it happen.

How? Through a renewed sense of spirituality. That sense of renewal is hardly new; it is, in fact, quite ancient. “Such is the circle of those who turn to Him, Jacob, who seek Your presence” (Psalm 24:6).

How? For religious Zionists, the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land — and, even and especially, the struggles over the meaning of that power — is a sign of the Divine Presence.

“They shall know that I the Lord am their GOD when, having exiled them among the nations, I gather them back into their land and leave none of them behind. I will never again hide My face from them, for I will pour out My spirit upon the House of Israel — declares the Lord GOD” (Ezek. 39: 28-29).

The eclipse itself is a testimony to the cycles that attend to the natural universe, the flowing of time and the placement of the planets and orbs — all imagined, all in the mind of God — as intimated in the opening words of Genesis.

You have bought your eclipse glasses, haven’t you?

In the words of Bruce Springsteen:

Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sunBut mama, that’s where the fun is (“Blinded by the Light”).

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