This coming Wednesday morning – as they have done every 28 years – Jews world over will be gathering outdoors to glance at the sun and declare: “Blessed is He who reenacts the works of Creation.”
Last week’s column, Restoring the Balance, discussed the cosmic significance of this historical and rare convergence, when the sun returns to the exact time and space of its conception. This event allows us to restore the balanced configuration of our lives, realigning it with the harmony of the cosmos.
But upon further review, a very fundamental question arises concerning the entire basis of the 28-year cycle. The solar year is 365.25 (or to be more exact: 365.24219) days. If the cycle were a perfect 365 days, the sun would return to the same exact spot at the same exact time each year. Due to the .25-day addition, it takes 28 years for the sun to return to its original location at the same day and hour.
Which begs the question: In a world of unparalleled eloquent symmetry why did the Divine plan not include a balanced solar cycle – a perfect 365 days, which would have made life a lot simpler?
The answer lies in the verse in Genesis that first describes the sun’s creation and purpose: “Let there be luminaries in the heavens to distinguish between day and night; and they shall be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years. And they shall be for luminaries in the heavens to illuminate the earth” (Genesis 1:14-15).
The sun’s raison d’être is to “illuminate the world” (repeated twice in these verses). The actual original Hebrew expression is “le’ha’ir al ha’artez.” “Le’ha’ir” – from the word “ohr” – actually means much more than light. “Ohr” is energy, which encompasses many things: light, illumination, warmth, radioactive waves, and all the other multitude of effects that the suns rays (visible or not) have on Earth. A more accurate translation of the verse may be: To energize the Earth.
In other words, the sun and the moon are not two self-contained luminaries, divorced from earthly affairs. They are both an integral, intertwined part of the human condition. Indeed, their entire being is to serve Earth. They affect us and we affect them.
Thus, the sun and moon – just as we earthlings – do not have perfect cycles. Their movements reflect the disparity of our lives – all our inconsistencies and imperfections, cracks and divides. Our split between spirit and matter is mirrored in the sun’s uneven cycle, as well as the moon’s.
What is the root of this disparity? Explain the mystics that unity is the core essence of all existence. But in order for our lives to have meaning, indeed, in order for our independent existence to even emerge from its essential state of unity, a grand tzimtzum – a colossal withdrawal – took place, which concealed the unifying Divine light that “filled” and permeated all of existence. Once the conscious light was “withdrawn” (i.e. concealed), our independent consciousness was able to surface, allowing for existence as we know it.
This tzimtzum is the root of existential dissonance – and all forms of disparity. It allowed for the birth of two states of being, two, as it were, realities, with a split dividing two perceptions: One, the true perception from above, that sees everything as one integral field of energy. Two, our pluralistic perception from below that makes us feel that we exist apart of everything else.
All forms of duality that we experience – from the esoteric split between spirit and matter, form and function, body and soul, to the tangible conflicts that plague our psyches and lives, the battles between our mind and heart, the domestic conflicts between spouses, friends, different opinions and nations – are all a result of the cosmic tzimtzum’s “black hole” concealing the harmony within all.
Diversity per se is a blessing; a necessity to discover beauty in the manifold colors and shades of our common tapestry. And indeed, that is the objective of the tzimtzum in the first place: Not to conceal, but to reveal. Not to divide, but to unite. To allow us the power and choice to see beneath the veil and reconnect the seemingly fragmented parts.
But diversity left unchecked creates divisiveness. When the purpose of our differences is misunderstood, with an added dimension of insecurity and fear thrown in, discord is born. Divisiveness and discord are but one step away from hostility, prejudice, war and finally mutual destruction.
Our great masters, mystics and teachers always emphasized that the single most important thing we must never forget is that: We are all parts of one whole. We need each other, and we complement each other. If one component is hurting, we all hurt. Hashem Echod – the ultimate declaration of unity in the most famous liturgy of them all (the Shema) – is not just a statement about monotheism. It means not only that there is one G-d and not many gods; it’s ultimate meaning is there is one reality and not two or many realities. When you are fiercely negotiating a business deal on a mundane Wednesday you are connected with the same Divine unity as when you are fervently praying in a Synagogue on Yom Kippur. When this unity is concealed every form of disparity and inconsistency arises.
Since dissonance lies at the heart of our existence (with the objective of integration), the sun and moon, created to “energize Earth,” being part of our destiny, must reflect our disparity in their own imperfect cycles.
In a cryptic episode the Talmud (Chulin 60b) relates the following drama:
Initially the sun and the moon were equal in greatness and luminance. But then, the moon said to G-d: “Master of the Universe! Can two kings wear the same crown?” Said G-d to her, “Go diminish yourself.” Said she to Him, “Master of the Universe! Because I have said a proper thing, I must diminish myself?” G-d then proceeded to console the moon with her various benefits. Seeing that the moon was not appeased, G-d finally said: “Offer an atonement for My sake, for having diminished the moon.”
Amongst all the statements of our sages, this one remains one of the most mysterious. And indeed, it is the focus of entire volumes of commentaries and especially Kabbalistic interpretations (see G-d on the Moon). Here is not the place to go into these elaborations, but suffice it to say, that the moon’s “dialogue” with G-d reflects the existential loneliness and dissonance that we all experience in our search for self awareness and purpose. The resulting questions – the ego trying to assert itself in face of sensing a higher awareness; the clashes it will face as it battles between self-interest and the good of others; the journey to understand our identity and purpose in life, our “identity crisis;” the ordeals and diminishing that we undergo in our aspirations; the suffering and losses we will endure; and finally the Divine plan behind the story, including G-d’s “trepidation” for having caused so much pain – is all part of the moon’s cosmic trauma.
The sun and the moon are two forces in our lives, and the very fact that the moon was troubled how it would co-exist with the sun (can two kings wear the same crown?), reflects the duality that we all experience. As does the resulting diminishing of the moon: Are we givers (like the sun) or receivers (like the moon)? Are we dependent (like the moon reflecting the sunlight of others), or independent, emanating our own unique light?
In an elaborate and even eloquent fashion the Kabbalists explain the evolutionary process, how the dissonant environment created by the tzimtzum led to the “shattering of the containers” (in the chaotic world of tohu), which in turn produced the “complaint” and the “diminishing” of the moon, and finally how that led to Adam and Eve’s loss of innocence, when they were thrust into a world of duality from their initial state of seamlessness. Defying G-d and eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, resulted in the fissure of the human psyche; it gave birth to self-consciousness, and the split which plagues mankind to this day, between our own sense of consciousness and personal needs and a sense of higher consciousness and greater calling (see The Origin of Consciousness).
But this is not just a story of lunar dissonance. It’s twin luminary, the sun too, is affected by the misalignment between spirit and matter caused by the tzimtzum. The sun’s cycle is therefore not a perfect 365 days, and also awaits our efforts to realign the imbalance every 28 years.
With this in mind, we can begin to appreciate the powerful significance of the sun blessing next Wednesday morning.
Think of it: We humans have the power to relieve the solar trauma – and the tensions caused by all life’s imbalances – by simply gathering together, uniting and recognizing the sun’s original alignment, blessing this event and drawing down its harmony into our lives.
The sun affects us in a myriad of ways. We are alive because of sunlight. We have tanned in the sun (and even been burned), basked in its warmth, tapped a bit of its energy, watched its’ majestic rise and set. The 28-year solar cycle, which we now celebrate, tells us that there is more. Much more.
We have the ability to restore the balance so desperately needed in our personal and collective lives.
If you asked me, sounds like a pretty good reason to get up early coming Wednesday morning and greet the sun in the firmament.
Dear Rabbi Jacobson,
Thank you for your very insightful article. I just would like to make one small correction. The article states: “If the cycle were a perfect 365 days, the sun would return to the same exact spot at the same exact time each year.” Actually in this case it would take 7 years for the sun to return to its original location at the same day and hour because every year would shift it exactly one day forward. In order for the for the sun to return to its original location on the same day of the week after one year the year cycle must be divisible by 7 (e.g. 364 days).