| Magazine Feature |

In Totality

For a few brief minutes along the path of the eclipse, the world looked up

Project Coordinator: Gitty Edelstein

For an all too brief moment, the world quieted as the sky darkened with the magnificent heavenly display of three celestial bodies in perfect alignment. Few experiences can compare to watching  nature shift as an eclipse enters its totality, and the resulting awe is a strong unifier in a sharply divided world. 
Mishpacha shares impressions, sights, and scenes from the ground, when for a few brief minutes along the path of the eclipse, the world looked up



Unless you were observing  a complete media blackout or somehow missed the eclipse-related tchotchkes in your local grocery store display, you’ve surely heard about the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, along with a bunch of complicated scientific terms thrown around by people explaining how it happens and what it looks like.

Lost? Here’s a basic explanation of last week’s cosmic event and how it works.

Round and Round We Go

The earth’s orbit around the sun takes 365 days, six hours, and nine minutes to complete. Similarly, the moon revolves around the earth on a path that takes roughly a month. Naturally, there will be times when the celestial bodies come into alignment in their revolutions; that’s called an eclipse.

A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, blocking the sunlight for a few minutes until the moon slowly moves out of the way. A lunar eclipse is when the earth is positioned directly between the sun and the moon, causing earth’s shadow to fall on the moon and make it look dark red.

While eclipses happen fairly often, the reason they aren’t more common is because the moon’s orbit is slightly higher than the earth’s, meaning the moon is usually slightly higher or lower than the sun. In order for any form of an eclipse to happen, the moon needs to cross into earth’s orbital plane at a specific location that places it precisely between the two other celestial bodies. The type of eclipse that will be visible on earth will depend on what part of their orbit the sun, moon, and earth are on, which is why total eclipses happen less frequently than other forms of eclipses.

Diamonds and Beads

The path of totality, which is roughly 100 miles wide, refers to the areas on land that can witness a total solar eclipse.

The 2017 and 2024 eclipses were unusual in that they occurred over large contiguous (attached) swathes of land, so millions of people could witness one for the first time in their lives. Since some 72 percent of the planet is covered in water, most eclipses occur over the ocean, with bits of land seeing a partial event. The areas surrounding the path of totality won’t witness a full eclipse, but they will see a partial blockage depending on their distance from the path of totality.

It is unsafe to look at an incomplete eclipse directly; the sun’s rays will burn your retinas. An eclipse can be viewed safely without protective eyewear only once the sun is completely obstructed by the moon.

During a solar eclipse, the sky slowly darkens as the moon starts to cross in front of the sun, in a process that can take hours. In the seconds before the moon completely obstructs the sun, an eagle-eyed viewer can spot little dots of sunlight that stream through the mountains and valleys along the moon’s surface until the moon locks into position and they start to go dark. These little dots are known as Baily’s beads, named for British astronomer Francis Baily, who described them after the eclipse of 1836 “like a string of beads” that disappear one by one when the eclipse nears totality.

After the 1842 eclipse, Baily noted that the moon was suddenly “surrounded with a corona or kind of bright glory,” thus introducing the word “corona” to eclipse lexicon. When a single bright spot remains on the edge of the circle — the “diamond ring effect” — totality is about to occur. Once that “diamond” disappears and there is no more direct sunlight, it is safe to view the eclipse with the naked eye. The eclipse ends when a diamond and corona reappear on the opposite ends of the moon, followed by Baily’s beads.

Nature Reacts

While the main event is in the sky, the show on the ground is also memorable, because solar eclipses have a profound effect on the natural world.

Studies have shown that once the sun is three-quarters eclipsed, nature starts to react. Birds stop chirping, and plants close their petals or rotate their stems to follow the moon’s path. Most wildlife reacts to the eclipse as nightfall; farmers report that their animals automatically start walking to their barns and beekeepers note that bees stop buzzing or return to their hives. Even domesticated pets react — during the 2017 eclipse, one terrified dog hid in a closet, and was still so anxious months later she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and put on Prozac.

Since there were several large zoos under the path of totality this year, biologists had the opportunity to observe how hundreds of species reacted to this new phenomenon.

In the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas, tortoises broke down the door to their sleeping enclosure in an attempt to get to bed, while the nocturnal animals woke up seeking breakfast.

In Columbus, Ohio, the ostriches returned to their barn and engaged in their pre-bedtime routine of grooming and preening, and some of the elephants exhibited unusual behaviors like trunk-thumping and making chirping sounds.

Up in the Granby Zoo in Montreal, Quebec, staff had their eyes on one of their loudest primates, the Japanese macaques, who acted stunned, went silent, and turned their backs to the sun.

Foreboding Phenomenon

Judaism does not view eclipses as a positive force. The Gemara in Succah (29a) describes a solar eclipse as a bad siman for the world at large and a lunar eclipse as a bad siman for Klal Yisrael.

In fact, there are those who fast after seeing a lunar eclipse, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe was quoted as saying that an eclipse is an eis ratzon, to be used as a time for tefillah and teshuvah.

Chazal understood that an eclipse is a scheduled natural phenomenon, as evidenced by the Talmud’s use of the word “zeman” to describe an eclipse, a word that describes something prearranged.

Early civilizations, on the other hand, which typically worshipped nature, tried to fight eclipses. The earliest recorded eclipse is a cave drawing in current-day County Meath, Ireland; historians have dated it to November 30, 3340 BCE. Directly in front of the cave drawings were the charred remains of an estimated 50 human bodies, likely offered as ritual sacrifices in an attempt to appease their gods and restore the sun.

The Mesopotamians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and later, ancient Chinese, all kept detailed records of every eclipse. Many of those dates have been verified thanks to advances in computer technology.

The Sun-Eating Monster

A solar eclipse was a terrifying, unexplained event for ancient cultures. The populace understood that they were reliant on the sun for light, warmth, and sustenance, so any “attack” on the sun was cause for panic. While later civilizations eventually learned to predict an eclipse, they had no way of knowing what caused it or whether it was permanent.

The common belief was that an evil celestial being — in some cases a dragon — was attempting to attack and eat the sun, so they rallied their soldiers and attacked the enemy by shooting arrows toward the sky. The arrows and the accompanying war drums would scare the creature away, and the sun was saved until the monster’s next attempt. The whole battle tended to take several minutes, conveniently the length of the average solar eclipse.

Astronomers’ ability to predict solar eclipses helped make them vital to the Chinese court. Shu Jing, an ancient Chinese history book, mentions a case in which the world had a close call and the dragon was almost successful.

On October 22, 2134 BCE, China was horrified by an unpredicted solar eclipse. Unlike other eclipses, in which China’s best archers and drummers prepared an ambush for the evil sun-eating dragon, there was no warning this time. The court was in disarray as the army was hastily assembled, and women on the home front were conscripted into duty, banging their pots in a desperate attempt to ward off the dragon. Thanks to the heroic efforts of all involved, the sun survived to shine another day.

An investigation into the near-tragedy laid blame on astronomers Hsi and Ho, who did not see the eclipse coming. They were passed out, stone drunk. Emperor Chung Kang had them executed for dereliction of duty.

Perfect Timing

In a historical account that should be taken with a grain of salt (as the hero was the one who spread the story), a solar eclipse saved Christopher Columbus and his crew from starvation.

When his ship was damaged in a 1503 expedition on the Central American coast, Columbus dropped anchor in Jamaica, where it took over a year to complete the necessary repairs. Columbus’s crew ran out of food and supplies, and while the generous native Jamaicans assisted them at first, their patience ran out as time wore on; the Spaniards were terrible guests who didn’t reciprocate trade, and many of them were thieves as well. Having lost the goodwill of their hosts, Columbus and his men were facing starvation. He made a desperate attempt to save his crew. Columbus reviewed an almanac he had brought with him and realized it predicted a total lunar eclipse in a few days.

On February 29, 1504, Columbus assembled the Jamaican leadership and declared that if they didn’t agree to provide the Spaniards with food and protection, he would pray to his god to turn the moon blood-red, and it would stay that way until he received what he wanted. Columbus claimed the eclipse happened as he’d warned, and the horrified Jamaicans provided for the Spaniards until the repairs were completed, and they could leave.

Punishment Enough

New York is rarely in an eclipse’s path of totality. The last time New York City hosted a full solar eclipse was on January 24, 1925 (and the next time will be in 2079).

Known as “the 96th Street Eclipse,” since the southern edge of the totality path paralleled 96th Street in Upper Manhattan, the entire city came to a complete halt for the two hours of darkness. The New York Stock Exchange delayed its opening, and everyone with roof access or a balcony braved the single-degree temperatures to witness history. That is, nearly everyone.

To quote a widely discussed New York Times article, three gentlemen from Harlem were so excited about the upcoming eclipse that they “had come to their plight through overdoing a liquid celebration held as a preliminary to watching the eclipse.” The men spent the night in the drunk tank, sitting in jail until their court hearing the next morning, and they missed the once-in-a-lifetime event.

Their case yielded much interest since this was the Prohibition era, when they should not have had access to alcohol in the first place. Their judge had a sense of humor, as reported by the Times:

“You were in jail this morning when the eclipse took place?” inquired Judge McKiniry.

“We were,” the three replied.

“Well, I think you have been sufficiently punished,” Judge McKiniry said. “Discharged.”


Private Party

The eclipse of 2024 is unique in that it traveled over large populated areas; millions of Americans live in the 115-mile band of its path. Any area on Earth can expect a total solar eclipse every 375 years, and total solar eclipses are not all that rare (on average, there are one or two a year). We rarely get to see them, though, because 72 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, and other eclipses occur over desert and remote jungle areas, the viewing audience is usually limited to fish and birds.

Rabbi Yosef Eisen


Fair Weather Friend

It isn’t evident why the distribution of total solar eclipses is so seemingly haphazard, but we do know that the longest total solar eclipses, which last up to seven and a half minutes, occur in Earth’s tropical regions because of the positions of the sun and moon in those areas.

Rabbi Yosef Eisen


To the Point
by Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky

A solar eclipse, as we just experienced, always takes place around Rosh Chodesh, the molad of the new month. A lunar eclipse, on the other hand, always takes place around the 15th of the month —the nigud, or midpoint, between one molad and the next.

Both of these events can have halachic ramifications. For instance, a lunar eclipse might affect the calculated end point for Kiddush Levanah. The earliest time to recite the monthly Kiddush Levanah is related to that month’s molad, and the latest, to the nigud. But the molad we announce in shul is not the astronomical molad, rather it is a value based on the average length of a lunation as calculated with incredible precision by Chazal. That average, which is used to calculate the calendar as well as the beginning and end times for Kiddush Levanah, is close enough, and since it is exceedingly difficult to know when the actual molad is, the use of the averages doesn’t cause any cognitive dissonance.

However, when there is a lunar eclipse, the heavenly bodies announce the actual nigud. If that occurs before the calculated Kiddush Levanah end time, can we not say Kiddush Levanah after that eclipse, even if there are more days until the calculated molad? And if the eclipse occurs after the calculated end point, do we permit the recitation of Kiddush Levanah until then? The significance of these questions was not lost on our great sages. In the 16th century, the Beis Yosef ruled that a person who viewed a lunar eclipse is seeing the actual nigud and should not recite Kiddush Levanah afterward.

A solar eclipse can also affect Kiddush Levanah’s calculated end point. Rather than calculate half a lunation from the average molad, should one calculate it from the time of the obviously accurate molad, based on the eclipse? Halachic authorities note that the discrepancy between the real and calculated value is not nearly as obvious, so it won’t affect the Kiddush Levanah end point.

A lunar eclipse may also be relevant for those observing the once-prevalent custom to conduct weddings only in the first half of the month, as the moon grows. Does a lunar eclipse signal the end of the time that month one can get married?

Probably the most common halachic question is what brachah one should make on an eclipse. Partial solar eclipses are not so rare; they are mentioned in Tanach and discussed by Chazal, who state that a solar eclipse is a negative omen for non-Jews, and a lunar eclipse portends poorly for the Jews. The Gemara talks about the four sins that cause a solar eclipse, and the different set of four sins that cause a lunar eclipse.

Recent Talmudic commentators have been troubled by this, because eclipses are highly predictable natural phenomena, but despite the variety of creative explanations to this enigmatic Talmudic statement, nowhere in the classic literature is there a mention of saying a brachah on this awe-inspiring event. Thus, despite the great urge many have to channel their eclipse emotions into a brachah, most poskim rule not to say a brachah.


Location, Location, Location

Some locations experience the cosmic phenomenon more than others: Yerushalayim last had a total solar eclipse on August 2, 1133, and will next experience one on August 6, 2241, an interval of 1,108 years. But in the era of the second Beis Hamikdash, Yerushalayim had three total eclipses in the 54 years spanning the events of Megillas Esther, Ezra and Nechemiah, and Shimon Hatzaddik.

Meanwhile, just north of the Lobito municipality in Angola, Africa, there were two total solar eclipses in under 18 months — the first at the end of June 2001 and the second in the beginning of December 2002. Southern New Guinea also had two in one-and-a-half years: June 1983 and November 1984. The Florida panhandle will experience total solar eclipses in 2045 and 2052, while Antwerp, Belgium, will have two in 2142 and 2151. This year, Carbondale, Illinois, experienced totality for the second time in under seven years (the last time was in 2017).

Rabbi Yosef Eisen


Universal Experience

Earth isn’t the only planet that experiences total solar eclipses. They can also occur in Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and even distant dwarf-planet Pluto when their moons line up with the sun. (Mercury and Venus have no moons, and Mars’ two moons are too small to eclipse the sun.)

Rabbi Yosef Eisen


Basking in His Light
By Rabbi Avraham Neuberger and Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Privalsky

You really must have blind faith to accept atheism and reject the Great Designer.

Take this gem from the CBS News website:

What exactly is a total eclipse? Astronomy author and educator Ed Ting says that… it’s all the result of a freakish cosmic coincidence, when the moon and sun appear to be the exact same size in the sky.

“The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon,” said Ting. “But by happy coincidence, it is also 400 times further away. So, from our perspective they are the same size.”

Get that? The fact that from our perspective on earth, the disc of the moon and that of the sun are precisely the same size is a “freakish cosmic coincidence.” If the moon was further away from us, it would not block the sun entirely; if the moon was closer to us, the area surrounding the sun would also be blocked, and the surrounding corona would not visible. But wouldn’t you know! The sun is 400 times the size of the moon, but also “punkt” 400 times further away, so there is precise totality. Now how do you like them apples?

Freakish coincidence? The only thing that seems freakish is that someone believes all this is a coincidence!

Still, while the intentional design is glaringly obvious, we’re left wondering: What does it mean? What is the Designer conveying to us? There are no neviim nowadays to interpret Hashem’s doings. However, there’s something amazing apparent in this phenomenon.

Chazal tell us that initially the sun and moon were meant to be of equal size. But the moon complained that two monarchs cannot share one crown; Hashem responded that the moon should diminish itself. (The deeper meaning of this “conversation” is beyond the scope of this article.)

Now, Ramchal and others teach that Hashem “uses” the celestial beings to influence the world. If we assume that the moon’s “influence” remained the same despite its diminution by 400, then it’s not surprising that it was moved precisely 400 times closer to compensate for its smaller size.


On a related note, we add an extra month every couple of years or so (seven times every 19 years) to catch the lunar year up with the solar year. (This process is called intercalation — a term no one knew until ArtScroll came along.) This discrepancy occurred when, as mentioned above, the moon complained that two monarchs cannot share one crown, which, according to Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer, led not only to the moon becoming smaller than the sun in illumination, but also reduced the number of days in its yearly cycle. Adding a month every couple of years evens things out.

It is for this reason, says the Shelah, that we add “ul’chapparas pasha” (the forgiveness of sins) in Rosh Chodesh Mussaf during a leap year. We’re alluding to the corruption of the ideal state of the world, in which the two luminaries would have been equal. The corruption is to some degree “rectified” in a leap year when the solar and lunar calendars are evened out. Hence, ul’chapparas pasha.

We have just ended one such year, in which we added a second Adar to rectify the discrepancy. Then the moon came along, and with perfect precision, blocked out the sun. On the very last day of the month of that added month (when the moon is generally not visible at all), it made its presence felt in a major way, showing itself to be the sun’s precise equal.

One can’t help but think of the pasuk in Yeshayahu (30: 26) that prophesies that in the days of Mashiach, “the light of the moon will be equal to the light of sun (also see Pesachim 68).

May we be zocheh to the conclusion of that pasuk: The sun will then illuminate sevenfold and on that day HaKadosh Baruch Hu will bandage our injuries and heal our wounds, and the radiance of His sovereignty will be revealed.

Frightened into Peace

The Greek historian Herodotus relates that during a battle between the Lydians and the Medes, day suddenly turned to night. Frightened, the two sides stopped fighting and signed a peace treaty. Modern astronomers, armed with the dates of the kings described in the account and a knowledge of the dates and paths of ancient eclipses, have generally settled upon May 28, 585 BCE, as the date of the eclipse to which the story refers.

Rabbi Yosef Eisen


Limited Time Offer

Enjoy Earth’s total eclipses while you can, because the moon is slowly moving away from our planet at a rate of one and a half inches a year. Eventually, the moon will appear too small from Earth to block the Sun, and we will no longer experience total eclipses here. Not to worry — it’s moving so slowly that this would take a total of 620 million years.

Rabbi Yosef Eisen


Mountainous Illusion

While observing an eclipse in 1851, England’s leading astronomer, George B. Airy, noted a jagged edge to the solar atmosphere just above the surface of the moon. Reasoning that he was viewing mountains on the moon, he called it the “sierra.”

But in an 1860 eclipse, two scientists 250 miles apart took pictures of these same prominences — and the photos looked exactly the same. This proved that these prominences were not lunar mountains; if they were, the moon’s proximity and the difference in viewing angles would have yielded different pictures. They therefore concluded they were jets of gas rising from the sun.

Rabbi Yosef Eisen


Alien Iron

During the total eclipse of 1869, American astronomers Charles A. Young and William Harkness, working separately, noticed a green line in their spectroscopes (instruments that break the light of the sun’s corona into a spectrum of lines and colors, which enables scientists to identify present chemical elements). This indicated the presence of an element that did not exist on Earth.

They called it coronium, after the sun’s corona — but in 1941, the green line of coronium was properly identified as a mutant variation of the element iron, missing 13 electrons. There is no element coronium, but to this day, scientists have not been able to reproduce that iron variant in the laboratory, and it exists only in outer space.

Rabbi Yosef Eisen


Overnight Fame

Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity taught that gravity can bend light rays, including starlight passing near the sun. This could not be proven, because starlight is not visible in normal sunlight — except during a total eclipse, when outer space is visible by day. In anticipation of the total eclipse of May 25, 1919, an expedition traveled to the Portuguese island of Principe off the coast of Africa to photograph starlight near the sun and perform related tests. When the results came in on November 6, 1919, they confirmed Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein awoke in Berlin on the morning of November 7, 1919, and found that he was world-famous.

Rabbi Yosef Eisen


Rabbi Yosef Eisen is the author of Miraculous Journey (Feldheim 2023) which spans the scope of Jewish history from Creation to Donald Trump’s presidency. He teaches Jewish history at Kerem Bais Yaakov Seminary in Lakewood, New Jersey.

The Moon’s Triumph: Cincinnati
Shmuel Botnick

The moon said before HaKadosh Baruch Hu, “Ribbono shel Olam, can two monarchs share a single crown? 

[Hashem] said to her, “L’chi uma’ati es atzmeich  —  go and diminish yourself.”

It seems like such a strange response. Go and diminish yourself?

How is that a response to the moon’s argument?

The drive from Cincinnati to nearby Oxford, Ohio, usually takes about 40 minutes. But with Oxford predicted to be one of the locations in the path of totality, the drive on Monday took well over an hour.

There aren’t many frum Jews in Oxford, but my good friend Rabbi Yossi Greenberg serves as the Chabad campus kiruv rabbi there, and he graciously agreed to host any Cincinnatian wishing to visit Monday. Arriving at last, I find myself in college campus land; the lines of striking edifices firmly erected on perfectly trimmed lawns shimmer in the clarity of this beautiful spring afternoon. It looks perfect, impressive, big….

“B’zeman she’hachamah lokin, siman ra la’goyim [When the sun is eclipsed, it is a bad omen for the non-Jews. For the non-Jews count by the sun].”

The campus is so big and so bright. Just like the sun.

And 3:08 p.m. is rapidly approaching….

Pulling up to the Greenbergs’ home, I’m greeted by a beautiful menorah proudly displayed right outside the front door. The house is simple, and functions as a quasi-shul where the college students are free to enter at any time to daven, learn, or don a pair of tefillin. In fact, while I was there, a student entered the living room, took one of the several pairs of tefillin, and wrapped them lovingly around his arm and head.

This house is smaller, simpler than those authoritative structures down the road. The tefillin aren’t nearly as dazzling as the football fields and golf courses. They’re big, we’re small… so small… like the moon.

And 3:08 is rapidly approaching….

Members of the Cincinnati community keep on coming, including the entire Mesivta of Cincinnati. And then it happens. The day’s transparency begins to grow gray, then grayer. There are oohs and ahhs as we aim our eclipse glasses upward and then… the sun is gone. All is still.

We recite a kapitel of Tehillim, and spontaneously begin singing “Acheinu.” But from afar I can hear other singing. A large chorus of voices seems to have taken up some chant, a sort of college theme song I assume, and I’ll admit that it had a melodious tone to it. It was nice, it was musical, it was big… like the sun.

Why would Hashem say, “l’chi uma’ati es atzmeich  —  go and diminish yourself”? Perhaps because, if you aren’t small, you’ll never grow. The moon wished to be the sole heir to a single crown, rather than share it with the sun. Fine, says Hashem, but you must earn it. Make yourself small, dear Moon, and then grow. Grow and grow and grow. Grow until… you eclipse the sun.

Their songs, their buildings, their economy, their very destiny, follow the pattern of the sun. They can be big and brilliant, but they will never enjoy the blessing of struggle. They have never battled the way we have, never suffered the way we have, and will never triumph the way we have.

The sun will never eclipse the moon.

But we will. In fact, we just did.


Taste of Shabbos: St. Louis
Tehilla Shapiro

My hometown of St. Louis lay conveniently in the paths of totality of the 2017 and 2024 solar eclipses. As such, unlike my fellow eclipse chasers, I considered myself a seasoned professional, and I knew better than to try and take any pictures. My own five senses were the best camera I could hope for.

As the warm April noon succumbed to an eerie artificial nighttime, I briefly ripped my eyes away from the sky to look at the others sharing this celestial drama with me. I watched the man in the car next to us try in vain to capture the scene through his iPhone camera lens. Frustration flashed across his face as he arrived at the same conclusion that I had seven years earlier: if you weren’t there, you missed it. There could be no photographs and no social media posts to capture this encompassing sensory experience.

For a silent minute and 43 seconds, all of us gathered in Okawville, Illinois tasted the precious gift I savor for 25 hours each week. We simply put down our phones, stopped, and stared.

A Changed View: Dallas
Rabbi Hillel Muller

Around half a year ago, someone told me there would be a total solar eclipse in the beginning of April in Dallas. To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought. I’m not into science, so it was just a random fun fact.

My perspective changed drastically three months ago, when I got a call from Dr. Ari Bergmann, a friend of the Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA), where I work as COO. Ari, a professor of Jewish studies at Yeshiva University in New York, is a fascinating person who gives many shiurim in Lawrence, where he lives, and has written quite a few seforim.

“I’d like to organize a yom iyun in Dallas that will focus on Torah topics related to eclipses,” he said. “It’s an excellent opportunity, we’ll bring experts in diverse fields to discuss the Torah perspective on astronomy, zemanim, and more.”

I could sense Dr. Bergmann’s passion over the phone, and I was sold.

At DATA, we got to work, planning the schedule of events and shiurim, making arrangements for speakers and participants, and coordinating day-of logistics. Once word got out, rabbanim and balabatim across America started signing up in droves. More than 200 people attended in person, with many, many more joining throughout the Yom Iyun on TorahAnytime.

Looking back, there’s so much I can talk about  —  from the intricate details of the molad presented by Rabbi Dovid Heber of Baltimore to Dr. Bergmann’s deep philosophical ideas regarding the sun and moon, from the captivating astronomy lecture delivered by Rabbi Aharon Notis of Lakewood to a wonderful discourse on the seasons in halachah and aggadah from Rabbi Moshe Baruch Kaufman. We know Torah wisdom is endless, but the yom iyun  —  the sheer variety of every topic, approach, and aspect from a Torah lens  —  took it to another level.

And then, there was the eclipse itself.

Standing in darkness at 1:40 in the afternoon, I watched the eclipse unfold, the moon moving slowly until it completely blocked the sun. I thought of the months of planning, the hours of shiurim, the ideas, the logistics, the people  —  all coalescing into a day and a half of the pure, unadulterated pleasure of limud haTorah.

The Torah is vast; there is an infinite universe of chochmah contained within.


Brilliant Clarity: Montreal
Shana Joselet

Ten minutes to totality, I went out to my front porch. It already felt like dusk on this sunny Montreal afternoon. Considering we still have snow on the ground, it seemed as if the eclipse had been reserved for this beautiful day.

As the minutes passed, the sky got darker, and then windy; the whole atmosphere just felt eerie. Then a neighbor emerged, with popcorn, which did remove some of the intensity from the moment.

But then, at 3:26, the moon eclipsed the sun. Suddenly, the moon was in place, and a pure white ring surrounded it, a dazzling diamond ring.


Never in my life have I witnessed such brilliant clarity.

A minute later, though, the moon shifted in orbit, and it started getting light again. It was fascinating to observe how once even a bit of the sun was exposed, the world was light once again.


Better Luck Next Time: Lakewood
Gitty Edelstein

When I walk out my front door, I look up at the sky — and see only clouds. That’s typical of Lakewood; if we can’t have a totality of the eclipse, we will have a totality of clouds.

I slip my overpriced eclipse glasses into my pocket and shake my head.

Oh, well, better luck next time, I think, as I look down at my seven-month-old in his Doona. Then I realize the next eclipse will be in the 2040s, and he will im yirtzeh Hashem be a father by then.

How old will I be in the 2040s?

You get a new perspective when you mark the passage of time by decades. When the next eclipse rolls around, all of today’s minor frustrations and concerns, all anxieties about the state of the world, will be resolved one way or another.

It’s a comforting thought — and then I realize I’ll be 54 years old at the next total solar eclipse, and my mind flashes to gray hair, skin regimens, and the realities of middle age.

Nope, don’t like that at all…

I push those thoughts out my mind; I’ll let future me deal with all of that.

I turn, push the Doona inside the house, and get some ice cream. I deserve it.


Shocked and Awed: Cleveland
Shmuel Yaakov Mann

For a photographer, having one’s home located in the totality of a solar eclipse is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was filled with anticipation, as my planned photography session would be the culmination of yearslong preparation.

The morning of the eclipse, I had my specially ordered solar film attached to my camera lenses, all prepped and ready to go, as well as my eclipse glasses, which were independently tested by my shver, a Toronto optician.

I bided my time until the eclipse started by teaching my kids how to project the sun onto a piece of white paper I taped to the driveway, and by having them help me set up my table of cameras and nosh.

At 2 p.m., I started a special timer on my phone, which walked me through all the steps needed to photograph an eclipse. I set up about a half dozen cameras and sat back to enjoy the show.

At first, nothing happened. But then slowly, gradually, the sky darkened. First, like it was an overcast day, then grayer, like a thunderstorm was approaching, and then darker still, as if the sun were starting to set. The temperature dropped, the birds went silent, and then it got fully dark.

A split second later — there was the eclipse! Its perimeter was shimmering and sparkling before morphing into a white halo surrounding a pitch-black circle floating in the sky. There are no words to describe the sight of an eclipse without a filter shielding your eyes. Toward the end, I saw some red wisps around the eclipse that I later found out was solar flares. I was so shocked and awed that I nearly forgot to take photos.

After about four minutes, the lights came back on, and the world reverted to the way it was. My pictures were breathtaking, but this experience was something that photos cannot really do justice to.


In the Dark: Niagra Falls

As day turned briefly to night, the crowd at Brock University in Ontario started cheering. Perla Zaltzman, rebbetzin of Chabad Niagara, heard physics professor Dr. Barak Shoshany excitedly announce in his live report, “It’s 3:18 pm, and it feels like midnight!” Some members of the physics department prepared three years for this moment.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1008)

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