Friday, April 5, 2024

In This Moment, Take Two: Eclipse Shmeclipse - Is there a Blessing for an Earthquake! YES!


In This Moment

Revised Earthquake Edition

Eclipse Schmiclipse! How about an Earthquake?!

Here in Stamford, and throughout the region, we just had one of the most significant earthquakes of recent memory. Ten seconds of heavy rumbling from a 4.7 quake centered in New Jersey. I thought a tree had hit the house, and given how waterlogged the ground is, it was a distinct possibility. A quick look-see indicated that such was not the case (yet), thank God, and immediately I thought "earthquake." Being a rabbi, I then immediately came up from the basement, lest the ground happen to open up to swallow me as a punishment for my rebelliousness. I thought of that headline from Chronicles - News of the Past...

So, last night in this missive I discussed why the rabbis were reluctant to assign a blessing to eclipses. But isn't the fear we have over earthquakes equally intense? Yet there is, in fact, a blessing for earthquakes, in part because earthquakes were viewed by the sages less as divine punishment than as an example of divine pathos - God literally shaking in sadness at the destruction of the temple. What an amazing image. The quake is also seen as a measure of God's power as expressed in nature, much like a massive storm (which we also had this week...and last week...and the week before). Part of the opening section of the Amida prayer is called "gvurot," a reflection that divine power, the power over life and death. I think those reflections can be related to eclipses too. You can read some of my reflections on earthquakes, hurricanes and blessings here. And some biblical and rabbinic sources on earthquakes here.

I'll get back to eclipses at services this evening - wouldn't want it to be upstaged by this upstart rumble from New Jersey. And we all know that the real earthquake this weekend would be for UConn to win both Final Fours. Go Huskies! But for now, here's the blessing for earthquakes, since I know you've been waiting to recite it:

There is, of course, another view, which can be read in full (with footnotes) here.

We now return to our regularly scheduled miracle of nature: Monday's once-in-a-lifetime eclipse.

A Blessing for the Eclipse?

Yes...and No

As the rabbi says in "Fiddler on the Roof," "There is a blessing for everything. If there's a blessing for the Czar, and blessings for all sorts of natural phenomena, from thunder to rainbows, then there must be a blessing for Monday's upcoming total eclipse of the sun. But in fact the Talmud expresses great apprehension about eclipses, as many premodern societies did, See below some examples from rabbinic literature. The top one relates to this week's special reading for Shabbat Ha-Hodesh.

Other passages (see one here) propose that an eclipse is a punishment for specific sins like rape and murder. The point is that they could not explain it any other way, despite the fact that the sages did have a keen understanding of the cycles of the calendar, which involve the sun and the moon.

But now that we do understand those celestial movements, and our tradition is so based on appreciating their awesome exactitude, shouldn't we be blessing something as awesome, in both the amazement and terrifying senses of the term - and as rare - as what we'll witness this Monday? The next one over the US will not be until Aug. 23, 2044, at which time many of us will have a bird's eye view. So we've got to appreciate this one while we can! Below are some ways that we can, including some proposed blessings.

See Neohasid's full coverage - Pdf of blessings and more info

Click on blessings above to enlarge

  • See also: On April 8, God will turn the sun into darkness and the moon into blood (Forward) - Calamity is coming. God is turning away from us as punishment for our misdeeds. At least, this is the gist of what the Bible and the Talmud seem to be telling us about the full solar eclipse due to appear over parts of the U.S. on April 8. “The hour of doom has come for My people Israel; I will not pardon them again,” God says in the Book of Amos, one of several biblical passages relating the horrors of a solar eclipse. “I will make the sun set at noon, I will darken the earth on a sunny day.” “Before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes, I will set portents in the sky and on earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke,” says a passage in the Book of Joel. “The sun shall turn into darkness, and the moon into blood.”

An Endless Heartache

The headline of Yideot reads: "The Mistake, the Investigation and the Price."

What will happen now? While we still don't know all the details behind the killing of seven aid workers from Central World Kitchen, we know enough to understand that it was more than a mere misfire. This was not a Hamas patrol that was attacked, This was a group of international heroes, who had fed Israelis along with Palestinians during their time of need. We know that the attack was likely not a misguided missile, because there were three missiles. if there was a mistake made, it was in thinking that a terrorist was embedded among the aid workers (see the Ha'aretz thread at the bottom of this email). But even so, to risk the entire Gaza operation, not to mention the credibility of the IDF, to do this, it just boggles the mind. It was a strategic and moral disaster.

Early Friday morning, under unprecedented pressure from the US, the Israeli security cabinet made this decision (see below). Why didn't this happen months ago?

I would love to have been a fly on the wall of that meeting. (See also The White House says Netanyahu agreed to open another border crossing for aid after pressure from Biden. (NYT))

Now, they just need to make things right with World Central Kitchen. What happened can not be tossed aside as simply an accident. Too much was on the line here, and "Shoot first, ask questions later" has regrettably become a part of the IDF's culture (shockingly so, according to a CNN interview by the well-informed journalist Barak Ravid). An incident like this can overturn well-crafted strategies for the war's endgame, but right now the incompetence demonstrated makes one wonder whether there is a strategy at all. And I'm not the only one saying this.

  • David Horovitz of TOI writes, "The bigger strategic issue now is whether the “How could this have happened?” question needs, devastatingly, to be applied to the prosecution of the overall, vital, ongoing war against Hamas."

  • Marc Schulman writes: "The convoy was attacked after an armed person was observed joining it, raising suspicions of terrorist involvement. The rationale for repeated strikes on the convoy is unclear and almost irrelevant, considering the devastating implications for Israel. No amount of PR can compensate for the mistake. This incident brings to mind the question previously posed by the American Administration—if moving 20 trucks into Northern Gaza is problematic, how feasible is it to relocate 1 million Gazans out of Rafah?"

The anti government protests in Israel are gaining momentum. Israelis still are in favor of fighting on in Gaza, though increasingly the families of hostages have pressed for a new course. And increasingly, the government is providing evidence that they can't be trusted to continue to prosecute this war. Victory has always meant two things, the return of all the hostages and the end of Hamas rule. But both goals have needed to be stated unequivocally from the start, with the understanding that neither can be accomplished by military means alone.

Once again Eretz Nehderet, Israel's SNL, was spot on with this parody song, "Without the World (everything will be fine)," a takeoff on "We Are the World," sung by Israel's right wing rogues gallery. In the song, Netanyahu explains that“The time has come to sing loudly to the world and declare that we no longer need you. We have everything [we need] here, so we don’t need any more favors."

"Find someone else who will steal your towels,” Sara Netanyahu pipes in, apparently referencing reports of her shifty conduct at hotels abroad. (See the rest of the song's translation here).

Netanyahu has squandered nearly all of Israel's diplomatic capital in the hopes of a military rout. We're approaching the six month mark of what he hoped would be another Six Day War and there is no evidence of victory being remotely close. David Horovitz notes that the IDF "has relatively minimal forces deployed in Gaza at the moment: its operations have tailed off almost to the level of routine raids in the West Bank, and there is little evidence of any imminent significant operation in Rafah."

Victory is not at hand, and an invasion of Rafah is now less likely. And to top it off, we are waiting for an expected Iranian escalation, for which Israel will have much less international backing than they should have had. That's because there has been no accountability from the government. Those who recognize that the only way out is for speedy elections - like Chuck Schumer and now Benny Gantz, who has proposed elections for September - are castigated by those intent on defending this bankrupt leadership at all costs.

Elections in September would give Bibi plenty of time to achieve that total victory that "is just weeks away," as he said a month and a half ago. Elections during a war are hardly unusual. America conducted not one but two presidential elections during World War Two. A capable nation can shoot, vote and chew gum at the same time. But if a hot war is still going on next September, Israel will have far greater problems than running an election in wartime.


We often talk about moral clarity, especially at times like these. After October 7, people were praising my "moral clarity" and it made me uneasy. Sometimes clarity itself can be a bit unclear; there is sometimes a fine line between moral clarity and murky nuance, one that we need to straddle.

There is a difference between moral clarity and moral purity, where the narrative reigns supreme,even if it means massaging the facts from time to time. There can be, in fact, several simultaneous moral clarities - something moral purity can't sustain. But we have to. Jews have to. Here is what is morally clear right now:

  • Oct 7 was outright evil - that is true, and it is our moral obligation to make sure Hamas never is in a position to harm any Israeli (or their own people) ever again.

  • But of equal clarity is the fact that an attack on innocent aid workers who are not associated with a terror group is also morally abhorrent. We've also seen enough eyewitness evidence to know that, while it is not genocide, there is real malnutrition and hunger happening in Gaza. Israel had a chance to create a Marshall Plan to feed and safely relocate millions of people. It would have been hard. It would have required diplomacy. It would have required a government that didn't accept horrific rhetoric from its own representatives that played into the hands of Israel's enemies.

Israel has seriously degraded Hamas's fighting capacity over the past six months. Mazal tov. But all of that has been completely undermined by actions such as what happened this week. Mission unaccomplished.

In the meantime, those who choose to condemn Israel without saying in the same breath that Hamas has forfeited its right to govern - that's tantamount to saying that Israel has no right to exist in security. Is their goal is to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict? If so, Mission unaccomplished.

I care about Israel enough to understand that moral clarity demands that I forego moral purity. I will not sign on to any ceasefire that can't ultimately lead to the release of all hostages and the end of Hamas rule. Nor will I sign on to defending Israeli actions - or actions by anyone else - that deny the humanity of innocent people living in Gaza.

Like Benny Gantz, Chuck Schumer understands that elections are the best path out of the quagmire. But many among American Jewry's alphabet soup of organizations apparently do not have the courage to say that. And so the nightmare continues.

I look back to the comments I made in this newsletter immediately following the election of this Israeli government in November of 2022. I am not boasting that I was right. Big deal. I'm simply demonstrating how it is possible to be devoted to Israel without having to pass a purity test. The path of moral clarity - not purity - is the path that will ultimately help us all out of this quagmire. Back then it was not hard to see a "break glass moment" fast approaching. We just had no idea how bad it would be.

My hope is that soon the Americans will conclude their negotiations with the Saudis and present a real regional peace plan to Israel, and it should be an offer that they cannot refuse. Bibi will refuse it, of course, and then it will be up to the rest of us to take a good look at it, embrace our moral clarity, and weigh in.

Pesach is coming!


See also:

Rabbinical Assembly 2024 Passover Guide

Sale of Hametz Form

Kosher Rules for Passover | My Jewish Learning

Recommended Reading

Tomorrow's Front Pages


The Jerusalem Post

Yediot Achronot

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