PARSHAT TAZRIA

ON THE ECLIPSE

“Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be impure seven days.”  (Leviticus 12:2)

Upon seeing a wonder of nature, it is traditional to say a blessing.  Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, oseh maasei v’reishit. “We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes the works of creation.”  Certainly, such a blessing is worthy during a unique astronomical event like a total solar eclipse.

Unfortunately, I was not able to travel to Texas, Indiana, or New England and see the moon totally cover the sun.  I bought special glasses and was able to look at a partial eclipse here in Florida.  Even that was amazing.  But it would have been quite an experience to see the world turn dark as the moon covers the sun.  I believe my next opportunity to see a total eclipse in the United States will happen when I am in my mid-90’s.  I have to keep myself healthy.

There was a time when eclipses were met with terror.  People thought the sun was being destroyed.  Even today, people posted scary warnings on the internet about the eclipse.  I was surprised that several school districts around the country cancelled classes.  They were worried that children might be tempted to look directly at the sun, have their eyes damaged, and the schools would be found legally liable.  It seems so simple to order special glasses for the children and use this as an educational opportunity.

Eclipses have always been a time of scientific insight.  In 1919, during a total solar eclipse, British astronomer Arthur Eddington sent expeditions to two places in the world to photograph the event.  The photographs proved for the first time that the gravity of the sun bent the light from distant stars.  This was the proof that Einstein’s theory of general relativity was correct, that space-time was distorted by gravity.  Eddington’s report after the Eclipse made Einstein a household name.

There is a deeper meaning to a solar eclipse.  From the earth, the moon and the sun appear approximately the same size.  The sun is 400 times larger than the moon, but also 400 times farther away.  This similar appearance makes a solar eclipse so spectacular; the moon seems to exactly cover the sun.  In truth, the relative size will vary depending on both the moon’s orbit around the earth and the earth’s orbit around the sun.  But the size appearance makes a difference.

This is more than mere coincidence.  If the sun and the moon appear to be about the same size, then solar tides and lunar tides are similar.  I do not understand the details, but this is one of the factors that scientists claim makes the earth unique for human life.  Theologians speak of the anthropic principle, that so many of the constants of nature are just right for life to evolve.  If the moon were a bit larger or smaller, or if the earth was a bit closer or further from the sun, we would not be here. 

Of course, skeptics challenge this anthropic principle.  They claim that there are so many billions of planets in billions of stars, so the odds favor one of them being just right for life.  The odds of winning the lottery are infinitely small, but eventually somebody wins. The odds of life evolving on a planet are infinitely small, but eventually it happens on some planet.  With all due respect, I do not agree with the skeptics.  I think the anthropic principle is true.  The numbers are correct for life to evolve because there is a mind behind those numbers.  Call that mind God.

This week’s portion begins with the special laws following the birth of a baby boy or baby girl.  Each birth is not just happenstance.  The laws of nature were established billions of years ago in a way that leads to the evolution of life.  The eclipse is not simply a beautiful event, but a sign of how the sun, the moon, and the earth are fine-tuned for life.