This morning, I did it again. I stood out in the chilly pre-dawn air. This time I had to stand in the middle of the street but I was able to do that rather comfortably. I know some people in neighboring homes were looking at me trying to figure out what I was doing. But, it’s no secret and it shouldn’t have been a surprise. I was looking at the total lunar eclipse. It was a beautifully clear morning and once I was able to get to a point where the trees weren’t in the way, it was a beautiful sight.
I have written in this blog and in other places about my fascination with astronomy and with various celestial phenomena. In many ways, the lunar eclipse is among the less spectacular of these to the layperson. There is, really, not much to see except a progressively smaller and then progressively bigger moon. But, still, I am fascinated and wouldn’t miss it when it is visible, especially since Michigan weather rarely seems to cooperate.
I think that for me the most fascinating aspect of the lunar eclipse is the most easily explained by those more skilled in science than myself. But, I still can not quite understand how these events can be predicted so accurately. I know it is simply a matter of mathematics, physics, astronomy etc. which scientists find easy to calculate using their knowledge and computer technology. But, I see in this predictability the hand of the Creator whose universe follows such strict, predictable rules that such calculations can be made in the first place. This eclipse, like all of the others, was right on time.
But, this lunar eclipse was special in another way. A lunar eclipse, by definition, can only take place at the time of a full moon. But, this full moon is special in that it is the full moon heralding the beginning of the holiday of Sukkot this evening. Biblical holidays were calculated according to the lunar month and the time for Sukkot, the harvest holiday, was established at the full moon. Whether there was a philosophical reason for this date or whether it was simply the brightest night of the month which would make a celebration more meaningful or more convenient, it seems so appropriate that the holiday be tied to the full moon.
What particular moves me about this though is that, 6 months ago, on the other side of the calendar, we looked at the same full moon as we sat down at the Pesach seder. Passover was also timed to come at the time of the full moon allowing us to imagine the Exodus from Egypt taking place on that brightest night of the month with the light reflecting from the full moon symbolizing the light of freedom.
Not every full moon produces a lunar eclipse of course. But, I am grateful for the opportunity this year, as we approach the holiday of Sukkot to have had a good reason to go out and stare at the moon. Doing so reminds us not only of the grandeur of the universe but of the passage of time as we move from celebration to celebration, from festival to festival, from freedom to Thanksgiving.