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What the Moon Asks

For a few brief moments nearly every American paid attention to the moon. We looked into the afternoon sky—with our protective glasses of course—and watched as the moon obscured the sun. Although most of us do not live in the path of totality we marveled at this celestial phenomenon.

But if not for a perfect accident of nature this rare occurrence could never happen.

The sun and moon only appear the same size. The sun is actually 400 times larger than the moon. However the moon is 400 times closer to the earth than the sun. And so this perfect accident produced something so marvelous and beautiful that many could come up with no other word to say but “miraculous!” Was it God who perfectly calculated this factor of 400? Do we ascribe the solar eclipse to God’s hand?

We are left in awe.

Long ago, the ancient rabbis imagined, the moon complained before God. “Why am I the lesser of the two great lights? The sun brightens the day. The sun warms the earth. I am left only to mark the nighttime sky.” God listened to the moon’s complaint and said, “The Jewish people will mark their holidays by your light.” And the moon was content.

A fanciful story to be sure. And yet we continue to mark our holidays by the moon. Passover, for example, occurs during the full moon of Nisan. Rosh Hashanah begins on the new moon of Tishrei. And so the day after the solar eclipse the Hebrew month of Elul began. This month marks the forty-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates with Yom Kippur. At this moment of the year we turn inward and ask, “For what do I need to make amends? How might I change and become a better person?”

For all the science, and mystery, of this week’s attention to the moon as it briefly dominated the sun and made it the lesser of the two great lights, for our people the moon continues to ask a more simple and basic question. The moon asks us to improve ourselves.

For what do we need to make amends?

If we are honest with ourselves then the moon’s light becomes the more dominant of lights. And then God is content.