Path of Totality

“Pavillion, WY and The Path of Totality”

Rosh HaShannah
5778 Sermon Rabbi Ruthie Gelfarb

Did you observe the August 21 eclipse? Did you view it from the so-called Path of Totality?

In February of this year, my dear friend Soda (yes that is her nickname) announced that she and her partner were heading to Nebraska the weekend of August 21st to see the Solar Eclipse. They explained that view would be excellent in Nebraska. At the time, I thought she was a tad strange. I thought what is the big deal about an eclipse? Why not just see it here in Colorado?

Well as August approached, perhaps like some of you, I got a little caught up in all the excitement of this approaching eclipse. Especially, since the news reported that this was the first total solar eclipse with a trajectory exclusive to the US since the birth of our republic in 1776. And, each of our local hardware stores were selling these funny eclipse glasses.

Then, my father-in-law who lives in Montana told Tom and me, that he would be driving to Wyoming and staying with relatives in order to be in the so-called Path of Totality. And, his California son-in-law, an amateur astronomer, would be joining him. His California son-in-law was going to drive 2 days straight so that he could witness the famed 2 minutes of total eclipse, the so-called Path of Totality.

I started to feel like someone who didn’t have New Years Eve plans. I thought well if someone is willing to drive 2 days straight this must be pretty amazing. I urged Tom, my husband: We should go! It is not going to happen again until April 8 2024! Perhaps those Wyoming relatives had space for Tom and me. And like the throngs of other folks around the country and in fact the world we headed to the Path of Totality. We set off on a 7 hour car expedition for a 2 minute experience. Off to Pavillion, WY.

Early in the morning on August 21st, we gathered in a public park in Pavillion. It was a bit like a Grateful Dead concert. Chatty, relaxed people hanging out. Except rather than deadheads wearing tied dyed t-shirts we had amateur astronomers from far off places like New Zealand and Japan!

As the morning progressed, we noticed it was getting a tad cooler and that things were looking a bit greyer. We’d use our eclipse glasses and threw them we saw how the moon was covering a piece of the bright ball in the sky, our sun. Interesting, But not that big deal.

And then, as the time of totality approached (that’s when 95% and more of the sun was blocked by the moon) things got very, very interesting, or rather unsettling. And the last 5% made all the difference in the world.

I’ll do my best to describe it but I will fall short. It is kind of like describing being in love to someone who has never fallen in love.

I felt a disruption in the Cosmos. It was noticeably cold. Chirping birds fell silent. The stars came out. Or rather, we could see them because the sun was not shining. It turned out that the stars are always in the sky. We just don’t see them during the day because of the sun. A woman behind us was really scared and cried. A very, very strange feeling fell on everyone in the park.

I felt vulnerable, a great vulnerability that I had never felt before. I realized. Oh my God, we are so dependent on this thing called the Sun. It shines on us every day. It keeps us warm. That bright yellow, orange circle in the sky enables our food to grow. I had two thoughts:

  1. I am so dependent on this thing called the sun and 2) I take it for granted that every day it rises and sets. I will never again take it for granted.
  2. There are a lot of things in our lives that are ALWAYS there and which we don’t fully notice or appreciate in our lives, sometimes until they are gone.

Moms and dads, there. My eyes working. There. My ears working. There. My pancreas working there. My spouse -there. My kids- there. Good educators-there. A Jewish community I can call upon in my time of need. There. Freedom-there. Ability to not be jailed indiscriminately because of my political views there. Supermarkets with food on their shelves-there. Clean Air to Breathe-There. Opportunity to worship as I want-there. A Good Powder day- there (well maybe we don’t take those for granted).

The late great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

This morning I want to share a few of the brilliant opportunities our tradition provides us to notice what is always there but we forget to appreciate.

  1. Each morning, we waking and regain consciousness. We are gifted another day of life and the opportunity to author a new day. Our tradition invited us to recite Modah Ani Lfanecha Ruach Chi V’Kayam Shehezartah be Nishmatei Rabbah Emunatachah. Thank you God for returning my soul/my breath to me. How great is your faithfulness. In Hebrew the word for soul and breath have the same root. Neshama and Nisheemah.
  2. Neshama- Soul/Breath. It is there all the time. – Genesis 2:7 teaches, “And God blew into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life/Nishmat hayyim. And the human being became a living being, nefesh chayah. You breathe in and out. Your lungs fill with oxygen, then your heart pumps your blood and your red blood cells feed new oxygen to your cells , and then you exhale CO2. This happens continuously every moment you are alive. As the late great Albert Einstein said, “there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
  3. Each morning are tradition invites us to recite Blessings.- In Hebrew they are called Nisim B’Kol Yom- Miracles of Every Day!

I invite you to consider taking up this practice. Close your eyes and open your eyes. You can see- a miracle. Open the window and hear the birds or the voice of your children- a miracle. Stand up and put one foot in front of the other and walk– a miracle. Perhaps chose just 3 things each morning for which you are grateful about your body!

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

There is a Jewish practice of reciting the Eshet Chayil on Friday night. Have you heard of it? Anyone do it? Traditionally, a husband sings, his praises for his wife. (If it was my dad, it would have been a little off key.) It is a bit dated. In the traditional version, the husband appreciates his wife’s sewing, knitting, cooking, etc.

When I work with engaged couples, I introduce them to a modified Eshet Chayil practice. I encourage them at their Friday night dinner table, in front of everyone (children, relatives and guests) to share a specific example of something his or her spouse did for you and how it made a difference in your life! I am sure we all know what drives us crazy about our spouses and let them know that. Perhaps, you say, I really appreciated your making me tea and bringing it to me when I was feeling ill. You made me feel cared for. When I was feeling down, I appreciated your giving me a hug. I appreciated your organizing the garage so that we could fit in our cars. Thank you. I am lucky.

It is very, very hard not to take for granted those in our lives who are there for us day in and day out. Imperfect yes. But, they sustain and nurture us like the sun. Let them know at least once per week, perhaps on Shabbat Eve.

Turns out that what Judaism knew all along, Positive Psychologists are proving through research: appreciation brings about happiness and better health outcomes to the giver and the receiver. Imagine That!!!.

There is a prayer, Ashrei, that many of us may know from our home congregations. It goes Ashrei yoshvei vei’techa od ya’haleloocha selah/Happy are those who dwell in your House. They Shall Sing your Praise for ever. Right On!

The Ashrei, the ASHREI, is an acrostic. It begins with aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, and ends with Taf , the last letter in Hebrew alphabet. In it, using every letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, the Ashrei’s writer mentions something for which to be greateful or to praise God.

How about creating your own Ashrei each day? What you? Yes, you! When? Best to do it when you go on a walk but you can also do it when you are riding your bike or driving around town. For each letter of the alphabet, picture something for which are grateful and appreciative. All the way to Z. Some days it’s harder than others to do. Hokey, yes. But it works.

A-apples, B- brothers, C-coughing, D-Donna who kindly does the Yahrzeit lists, E-Esme my cat, Now, I’d like you to join with me and help me out. Let’s give it a shot. Please shout out something that comes to mind. No Need to wait for someone else. The more the merrier.

I hope in the coming year, you will take on and fold into your routine one or more of these Jewish gratitude practices from our 5778 year old tradition. You might be surprised how transformative they might be.

Granted a total eclipse happens very, very infrequently. In fact, the next one will occur in the US in 2024. Yet, every Rosh HaShannah, the birthday of the World, we sound the shofar, The blasts of teruah (sound) are like, like an alarm clock, blaring Awake, Awake, Awake. Awaken to the sweetness, fleeting miracle that is your life.

Shana Tovah!