Today is the Jewish holiday Passover, commemorating the moment, just before Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, when the firstborn son of every righteous family was "passed over" and saved from certain death. At sundown the holiday began, and at work we closed an hour early to make sure everyone who needed to could get home in time. But many Jewish people began celebrating much earlier today because of an event that, according to Jewish tradition, comes once every 28 years and happened to coincide with this year's Passover. Called the Birkat Hachamah, it is the day when, according to ancient rabbinical scholars, the sun is in the same position it was when it was created. To honor it and commemorate the creation, Jewish people all over New York gathered at sunrise to celebrate with prayers and blessings. One rabbi made sure his congregation knew that they were directing their prayers to God in thanks for the sun, and not worshiping the sun, a good distinction to make. Taken with the right spirit, a celebration of the sun is appropriate and lovely, and does not have to be pagan. It is good and right to give thanks to God for the earth and his other creations, the sun being one of the major ones. Without it, life on earth wouldn't really work. I like the idea of a holiday celebrating it.
Interesting that these holidays almost coincide directly with the full moon (completely full tomorrow). An Asian woman I work with is Jewish by marriage, having converted for her second (or is it third?) husband. She was telling me this morning about how she is helping to organize a Passover dinner for 40 people, some of whom are from Israel. The preparations have been stressing her out and so it was no wonder that she awoke in the middle of the night last night. She wandered through her dark house, not bothering to turn on the lights. Near a large window, she spotted something on the floor--a piece of round white paper, or... as she tried to pick it up she realized it was the moon. Outside the window the almost-full moon shone so brightly that it was reflected in the gloss of her hardwood floor. She gazed at it for some time, caught in it's strange spell.
Another co-worker of mine once told me that the moon used to be a sun, but it burnt up. Another believed it to have once been a planet, and wasn't aware that other planets had moons, too. As I gave these two a lesson in basic astronomy, I wondered, as I often do, why the solar system is arranged the way it is. Why do we have the moon, and planets, and stars? Do they affect us? I believe they do, and in more ways than we realize. We know that the sun makes things grow, and keeps the earth's rotation constant and regular. The moon affects the tides of our oceans. But what else? I believe that, just as we believe things in life happen for a reason even if we don't figure out the reason until years later or never even, the sun and moon and stars have a purpose we barely understand but which we will learn someday. For now, we just give thanks for them, wonder about them, and admire their beauty.