Allan Nadler
Retired Rabbi, Emeritus Professor of Jewish Studies, Drew University

From ‘Likuy Hamah’ to Likuy Hamas: Passover’s Eternally Eclipsed Promise

On Monday, I joined the massive crowds on the sprawling lawn of McGill University—my alma mater (class of ’76) — to behold the majestic, total solar eclipse. Though I have returned to McGill countless times in the nearly half-century since my graduation, including several stints as a Jewish Studies professor, this visit to my most beloved campus was particularly moving, in both elating and crushing ways. The deflation at the sun’s slow erasure, followed by a surreal euphoria like none I’d ever before experienced, resulted from so precipitously, almost mystically – “ke-heref ayin” (in the blink of an eye, as the rabbis describe the suddenness of our final redemption) – experiencing the sun’s majestic “return”.

The Hebrew term “hester panim” – referring to those horrific periods in Jewish History when Chazal (the Talmudic Sages) teach that God, in his anger, had ‘decided’ to ‘hide His presence’ from humanity – came immediately to mind during the moment of “eclipse totality.” Of course, the true terrors of “hester panim” began with the dawn of Jewish history, when the children of Israel were warned by God, before entering Eretz Yisrael, that, should they ever stop looking heavenward, “I will surely hide My face from you!” (Leviticus, 26 & Deuteronomy, 28, followed by the terrifying tocheicha, or Divine rebuke).

Such terrors have never since desisted from afflicting the Jews.

Those same ancient rabbis – in their infinite wisdom and impressive ignorance of astronomical science – argued more than 1500 years ago that, unlike when experiencing what they deemed to be ‘natural’ phenomena, for each of which there is a distinct blessing, no “berachah” may be recited upon viewing a solar eclipse. They mistook the eclipse for a darkly mysterious sign of imminent catastrophe!

Likuy ha-Chamah, the Liquidation of the Sun as it is known in the Talmud, was then viewed in premodern times to be a malevolently miraculous warning that Hashem is about to wreak upon the Jews yet more terror and devastation. (Tractate Sukkah, 29a)

On Tuesday morning, the Montreal Gazette’s full front-page story about the massive McGill Eclipse gathering (the largest in Montreal and second largest in Canada after the “lunar-lunacy-totality” at Niagara Falls) very aptly compared the event to an outdoor music festival. An exceedingly rare mood of spellbound awe and joy prevailed. And yet, surrounded by all the jubilance exuded by thousands of hopeful young men and women surrounding me at this once-in-a-lifetime festival, I kept fighting back tears. For at this festival, I could not stop being reminded by “the kids on campus” of their 364 innocent, joy-and-hope-filled peers, who were so brutally massacred at the Rei’im Nova Musical Festival this past Simchat Torah, a joyous day that was transformed, “ke-heref ayin”, into the Blackest Sabbath in Israeli, and modern Jewish, history.

Just as we are instructed never to forget the destruction of Ancient Jerusalem by breaking a glass under the wedding chuppah, at the very moment the sun began to reappear to the ecstatic cheers of the McGill mob, I felt a sudden urge to bare my feet and stomp in grief and rage on one of the beer bottles strewn across McGill’s lawn.

For at that bittersweet instant, I looked around at the crowds of students, without no need for either black or rose-colored glasses, and now noticed the proliferation of Keffiyeh’s and Palestine-coloured accessories, the countless accouterments declaring ‘Free Palestine’, ‘From the River to the Sea’, ‘End the Occupation”, ‘By Any Means Necessary’, and so forth. And I was instantly, crushingly reminded that throughout Montreal, as in cities worldwide, these terrorist tchotchkes have become the most popular, politically correct fashion statements de-jour for today’s “young and restless… and mindless.”

That sudden shift of view from the glorious heavens back down to earth sobered my elated spirit which softly, darkly sang, “Beware my Foolish Heart.”  So, while abiding by the Sages’ admonition against reciting a benediction over the Likuy Hamah, my heart took care to murmur a new malediction:

Likuy Hamas!”

For literal believers, God was surely hiding from us yet again on that on the last day of our last Biblical Yom Tov, October 7th, a Celebration-turned-Calumnation of the Torah. How could I have expected to experience any true joy, let alone any optimistic anticipation of Simchat Yom-Tov this coming Z’man Heiruteynu, Freedom Festival, during which the hostages will be nothing but not free, and their families will suffer empty seats and poisoned Elijah’s Cups at their Seder tables, and when the recitation of the plagues the wine we spill will be symbolic of the martyrs of the State of Israel, on and since that sun-filled and blood-drenched day of Hamas’s evil, dark “sunrise”?

In my joyous grief at the sun’s return to McGill’s campus, I wondered when we would be able to sing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” for our hostages and their loved ones. And how, before that glorious day arrives, we rise from our Seder chairs and dare to greet Elijah the prophet, let alone to sing with any kind of heart, “Bimheyrah be-Yameynu, Yavo ve-Yig’aleynu,” that speedily in our days, Elijah will come to redeem us? No amount of speed can render Israel’s redemption any less overdue.

At the Seder’s outset this year, we will again recite the words of Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah:

“Harei ani ke-ven shivim shana, ve-lo Zachiti she-teyamer Yetsiat Mitzrayim ba-leylot”

(“Behold I am in my seventieth year, and have still not merited to hear the [proper] evening recitation of the Exodus from Egypt:”)

I, too, have now reached that same milestone and have never merited [properly and fully] to recite the story of my people’s final Liberation from the terrors that insist, as if eternally, on eclipsing the sun’s redemptive radiance from the People and the Land of Israel.

This Passover, as did Rabbi Elazar so long ago, nearing the very end of my life’s 70th year, I will join all my fellow Jews once again praying – no, demanding! – that the verse “Beit Yaakov, Lechu ve-Nelcha be-Or Adonai” (Household of Israel, let us walk in God’s Light”) be realized. May we behold, with bare eyes, the dawn of Elijah’s Redemption such that next year, we shall all celebrate Pesach in a united, fully rebuilt, peaceful and endlessly sunny Jerusalem.

Let the promise of King David, “The Sun will no longer smite you by day, nor the moon by night,” (Psalm, 121) at long last be kept!

About the Author
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies and Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at Drew University (ret.). Prior to his appointment at Drew in 1998, Dr. Nadler was the Director of Research at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City, and Dean of YIVO’s Graduate Training Program, the Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies (1991-1998). From 1991-94 Dr. Nadler was Visiting Professor of Jewish Studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. In 1994-95 he served as Adjunct Professor at the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. In 1998 he was the Ezra Sensibar Visiting Professor at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies in Chicago. In 2005-2006, and again in 2012, Dr. Nadler was Professor of Jewish Studies at McGill University in Montreal, where he had previously been a fully time faculty member from 1982-1984, and an adjunct professor from 1984-1990. In 2011, Nadler was the Norman and Gerry Sue Arnold Distinguished Visiting Chair in Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston, in Charleston, South Carolina. An Orthodox-ordained rabbi, Dr. Nadler served the Charles River Park Synagogue in Boston and Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount (Montreal), Canada(1982-1991). Dr. Nadler’s hundreds of articles, essays, op. eds. and literary reviews have appeared in numerous scholarly and popular journals and newspapers such as Commentary, The New Republic, The Jewish Review of Books, Tablet Magazine, The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Judaism, Tradition, Modern Judaism, The New York Times, Newsday, Forward, The Jewish Week, and The Baltimore Jewish Times. Dr. Nadler is the author of: Faith of the Mithnagdim: Rabbinic Responses to Hasidic Rapture (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), The Hasidim in America (American Jewish Committee Monograph Series, 1995).
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