Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Tu B’Shevat - Part One

For Christmas last month, I got a lovely Jewish calendar. So much information is presented with this particular calendar that it helps me to begin filling in one of the many vast gaps of my knowledge about matters of importance.  

Without some familiarity of the Jewish calendar, it is impossible to fully appreciate Jewish feasts and holidays.  Without an understanding of those festivals, it is impossible to understand many of the events in the Old Testament, other events of the New Testament, and (some would argue with good cause) events that are yet to come.

By Judaic reckoning, one day ends and another begins at sunset, rather than midnight.  That was about the extent of my knowledge on the topic.  Now, I have learned that the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle of 29.5 days.  Hence, each month is 29 or 30 days in length.  The first of each month coincides with the new moon, and the full moon occurs on or about the 15th of the month.

Today’s date is Sh’vat 10, 5779.   A special day, the Fifteenth of Sh’vat is coming up (beginning at sunset Sunday, January 20 and continuing though sunset Monday, January 21.)  Tu B’Shevat is a minor Jewish holiday, known as the “New Year of the Trees.”

This year, the date is drawing considerable attention for another reason.  A Super Blood Wolf full moon will occur this Sunday evening.

Sure, you may know the "super blood wolf moon eclipse" is coming to a sky near you this month. But what exactly does it mean?  Unquestionably, the main event is the total lunar eclipse, also known as an eclipse of the moon, which will start late Sunday, Jan. 20 and finish early Monday, Jan. 21. This type of eclipse happens when the moon passes fully into the shadow of Earth….

A supermoon occurs when the full moon is at the closest point of its orbit to the Earth, which is also called the perigee.  That makes the moon look extra close and extra bright – up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than a full moon at its farthest point from Earth, known as the apogee, NASA said.

This is the first of three supermoons in 2019. The others will be on Feb. 19 and March 21. Of these, the Feb. 19 full moon will be the closest and largest full supermoon of 2019.

"Blood" moon…is just the reddish color the moon will appear during the total lunar eclipse. The moon won't turn black or vanish from the sky; instead it will appear to be a "reddish copper color," Murphy said, hence the name blood moon.

Although the moon is in Earth's shadow, some sunlight still reaches the moon. The sunlight passes through Earth's atmosphere, which causes our atmosphere to filter out most of the blue light.

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, Native Americans called the January full moon the "wolf" moon because it appeared when wolves howled in hunger outside the villages.  The almanac said ancient peoples commonly tracked the seasons by following the lunar calendar (vs. today’s solar calendar).  For millennia, people across the world, including Native Americans, named the months after nature’s cues.

If you miss this month's total lunar eclipse, you have to wait until May 26, 2021, for the next one in the USA. The next partial lunar eclipse will be this summer, on July 16, but will be visible only in Africa and portions of Asia.

If I understand it correctly, this will be a total lunar eclipse for viewers in the Southern Appalachians.

Judaism has a tradition of interpreting solar and lunar eclipses. In its discussion of eclipses, the Talmud (Sukkot 29a) specifically described solar eclipses as being a bad omen for the nations. Indeed, the complete solar eclipse that traversed the continental United States in August 2018 ushered in the most devastating hurricane season in US history.

The same source in the Talmud specifies that lunar eclipses are a bad omen for Israel since Israel is spiritually represented by the moon and the Hebrew calendar is figured by the lunar cycles. If during the course of the lunar eclipse the moon appears red, as the upcoming eclipse will be, the Talmud states that this is an omen that great wars will come to the world.

At the end of this section describing the omens contained within eclipses, the Talmud states a disclaimer: “When Israel does the will of God, they have nothing to fear from all of this,” citing the Prophet Jeremiah as a source.

Thus said Hashem: Do not learn to go the way of the nations, And do not be dismayed by portents in the sky; Let the nations be dismayed by them! Jeremiah 10:2

Rabbi Yosef Berger applied this teaching in the Talmud to the current geopolitical situation.

“It’s not that the bad judgment symbolized by the lunar eclipse just disappears,” Rabbi Berger told Breaking Israel News. “It is merely averted to our enemies. In this case, the wars and evil will fall on our enemies. By choosing to be our enemies, the Arab nations have brought the evil that might have befallen Israel upon themselves.”

“This is especially true when the lunar eclipse falls on Tu B’Shvat, a day when only good can happen to Israel.”

The date also marks the halfway point of Donald Trump’s presidency, coming exactly two years after he was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. It should be noted that Trump was born on the night of June 14, 1946, within fifteen minutes of a total lunar eclipse and 700 days before the state of Israel was established. Trump’s lucky sevens did not end there. When he was sworn in as President on January 20, 2017, he was 70-years-old, seven months and seven days.

The next post will explain the beautiful celebration of the New Year of the Trees.

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