After experiencing total totality of the solar eclipse in lovely Glendo Wyoming, and sitting in 13 hours of traffic on my 200 mile return home to Denver, CO, I wanted to reflect on five profound life lessons from this awesome event:
G-d is the King, and He is so incredibly awesome.
To be completely honest, as the moon totally eclipsed the sun, darkening the sky in the middle of the day, allowing for the stars to come out, and producing one of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen (the radiant corona of the sun in the middle of the sky), I had a similar feeling to when each of my children were born: A feeling of complete faith that there is a G-d who runs every detail of His splendid world. I had the chills, watching alongside tens of thousands of people from all over the world, observing G-d’s perfection and complete mastery of the universe He created. And I thought to myself how appropriate it was to witness this one month before Rosh Hashana, where the whole holiday is based on declaring and experiencing the Almighty’s Kingship.
Ani Ma’amin: A Glimpse into the Future
Another extremely powerful part of the eclipse for me was that my 8-year-old son was singing some lyrics to a song we were listening to in the car by the Jewish musical group Zusha: Ani Ma’amin b’emuna shleima b’vias HaMoshiach- I believe with full faith in the coming of the Moshiach. While he “happened to be” singing those words, watching the full eclipse, I was reminded of the idea that when the world was originally created, the sun and the moon were the same size, and only later did the moon diminish its size. Watching the moon completely block the sun, as if it were its equal, reminded me of this idea, and the verse in Isaiah 20:26 which states that when the Moshiach comes, “the light of the moon will be like light of the sun.” My good friend further reminded me of the prayer we say every month during Kiddush Levana, the short service in which we sanctify the new moon after Rosh Chodesh: “May it be your will, Hashem, my G-d, and the G-d of my forefathers, to fill the flaw of the moon and there be no diminution in it. May the light of the moon be like light of the sun and like the light of the seven days of creation, as it was before it was diminished.” Watching the moon block the sun, appearing like its equal, invoked this powerful imagery, and provided a small glimpse into our future.
What are we applauding?
One of the most powerful parts of the experience for me, was how, in the seconds leading up to the total eclipse, the tens of thousands of people with me in the Glendo Airport, started applauding, and cheering. This reminded me of how in certain Chassidic circles, when they come to the word “HaMelech” (The King) in the high holiday liturgy, everyone bursts out into a round of applause. Having grown up with sports, I have been part of crowds who applaud when a guy hits a ball very far, or when a linebacker runs over a helpless quarterback. But I have never seen crowds applauding the Almighty for His brilliant creations. Watching this spectacle was inspiring. I thought to myself how G-d performs wonders every single day. Perhaps instead of getting excited about a strikeout or a first down, I should focus more on a sunrise or a sunset. Rather than clapping for a reverse slam dunk, I can clap for a flash of lightning or thunder.
Keeping a proper perspective
As wonderful as the eclipse was, the traffic was, as we say in Yiddish, not gishmak. We observed the eclipse from an airfield in Glendo Wyoming, parked two miles off the highway. Apparently, this small rural town of 200 is not equipped to have tens of thousands of cars driving on its roads, attempting to get on the highway at the same time. After moving 10 feet in an hour, I had the brilliant idea to turn around, and attempt to get on the highway from 20 miles north of Glendo, on a backroad. Unfortunately for me, tens of thousands of people had the exact same idea, and getting back to the highway, 20 miles north of where we started took me about 4 hours. Once on the highway, we were at a total standstill. People were getting out of their cars to walk around and stretch. By the time we got back to the Glendo exit, it was about 6-7 hours after the eclipse ended. Once out of Glendo, it took us about 6 hours back to Denver, for a grand total of 13 hours, or 18 roundtrip. I will be totally honest when I say that at times I felt a real sense of despair. It seemed helpless. There was nowhere to go, everything was at a standstill. But then I thought to myself, how fortunate, and blessed I am that the extent of my tzaros (troubles/problems) is being stuck in a killer traffic jam. And while I reflected that it felt like being on the Cross Bronx Expressway for 200 miles, and I rode a whole wave of emotions as we would inch forward, pick up speed, then stop again, I couldn’t help but be filled with gratitude about the fact that at the moment, this one obstacle was my single greatest challenge. Many times in life we lose our tempers, and we become agitated over the most minor things. A flight gets delayed and we yell at the poor person behind the front desk. We get cut off in traffic, or have some car trouble. When that happens, we should yell out Baruch Hashem! “Thank you Almighty for everything you give me, and for these annoyances being the extent of my problems at the moment!”
Throughout my 13 hours in the car, as I tried to stave off feelings of despair at our lack of progress (like how for several hours we moved 8 miles in the course of an hour), I tried to stay focused on the positive: That if we continue inching forward, eventually we will reach our goal: To be back home safely, in my beautiful hometown. And while I did the math at how many hours it would take if we kept the 8 MPH pace, I focused on the baby steps we made to move further along the road. I think that we all find ourselves in a similar predicament right now. It is Rosh Chodesh Elul, and we need to start thinking about a plan to return to the Almighty through heart felt teshuva. Often it seems so confounding, knowing we have so far to go before we get to where we want to be. Yet the lesson is that we need to identify for ourselves, and focus on baby steps, that we can actually obtain.
It might take 13 hours, but with enough of those baby steps, we will reach our spiritual goals and have a blessed, sweet new year.