For those of us who witnessed the solar eclipse on Monday afternoon, we saw something truly spectacular - the shadow of a full moon partially blocking the giant orb of the sun. Here in Western New York, the day barely darkened or grew colder, but through specialized eclipse glasses one could see a change of momentous proportion: “Blessed is God, who performs the work of creation,” - “Baruch Atah… Oseh Boreh Ma’aseh Breishit.”
Ironically, this year’s Great American Eclipse occurred simultaneously with the new moon of Elul, leaving the sky empty of a moon the same night the moon made such a big statement for us during the day. In Western Culture the moon often is overlooked, our solar calendar masking its movements altogether. Not so, in Jewish culture, where every lunar cycle is noted and woven into the fabric of our Jewish year. Indeed, at no time do we feel the moon’s presence more than in the Hebrew months of Elul and Tishrei, when the moon becomes a giant Big Ben in the sky ticking down the moments we have to repent and make amends for our actions this past year. While the Book of Genesis tells us on the fourth day of creation that, “God made two great lights, the greater to dominate the day, and the lesser to dominate the night,” the moon never really takes second billing to the sun, she is always present for us, even during the day.
In many ways, this is how justice should operate, emphasizing the lesser over the greater and ensuring that everyone is seen equally under the law. I mention this in connection with this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, where even Kings are given strict rules of behavior, and criminals are given safe haven in cities of sanctuary. As the most famous line from this week’s Torah potion tells us, “Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof,” “Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue,” because without justice human society ceases to be sacred. Perhaps, our celebration of the moon, both during the eclipse and in Jewish tradition, is a reminder to turn to those forgotten in society and ensure that they have a say, not just once a century, but every day of the year.