Like most things meaning is often something we ascribe rather than something intrinsic. An eclipse is a fact of the physical world based on orbiting bodies and the shadows they cast when sun moon and earth interact. They are knowable and predictable.
Our tradition has suggested that an eclipse portends an unfavorable time for the world. A lunar eclipse was a bad omen for the Jewish people in particular, perhaps because of our connection to the lunar cycles in our calendar. I particularly like the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s z”l understanding that this is an opportunity to increase prayer and introspection. I do not know whether an eclipse would prompt certain bad behaviors to come out. This idea seems to lapse into the realm of the bubbe meise or superstition. But anything that makes us pause and consider things a bit more deeply about our circumstances is worthwhile. We have portents and signs all around us if only we would recognize them. Often we do not and even more rarely do we use it as a call to action.
I recall my first solar eclipse. It happened when I was a child living in the “holy city” of Monsey, NY. My father fashioned a special viewer so I could watch the progression. It was essentially little more than a cardboard box with a peephole. I was transfixed as the eclipse took place. The silhouette of the sun showed it being obscured and the sky turned a strange hue. I vividly recall being cautioned by my dad not to look at the sun because I would go blind. But I could not resist at least a quick glance skyward to see this extraordinary event directly and so I looked. Thankfully my sight was preserved, although at the time I was concerned. My recollections, however, are of the silhouette crossing that white piece of paper in the cardboard box my dad made for me.
What we do with this amazing event is, like so many things, up to us. I suggest that for those who can see it, watch the eclipse with a sense of wonderment and awe for the extraordinary world in which we live, contemplate your place in it, and act.
*I thank Chabad.org for sharing thoughts of the Rebbe.