A Tale of Two Coronas


I remember feeling moved, in August 2017, when the whole world was excited and inspired by the same thrill: the coming of a solar eclipse. People prepared by obtaining special dark glasses—special armor for looking at the sun. We made plans to join all our friends. Teachers prepared students not just with knowledge but by stirring their curiosity and excitement. Scientists shared data and predictions so that we wouldn’t miss it.  Then, multitudes of people from ages 2 to 100, from one state to another, crowded together outside to experience the beauty of this moment in nature. And just as beautiful as the vision of the sun’s corona peering from behind the moon, was the vision of so many people standing outside, lifting their eyes to the heavens in awe in that moment together. 

This is what it means to be human in this world: to be in awe of the beauty in our lives and in creation, and to be tremendously vulnerable at the same time.

Today, we also find ourselves experiencing together a shared emotion about nature; but rather than awe, it is fear, uncertainty and tremendous vulnerability.  And we’re preparing in almost opposite ways: we’re buying hand sanitizer and masks, telling children only what might be safe for them to hear, and keeping them home from school. We’re avoiding any gatherings and we’re staring at prediction graphs wondering if there is any way we might miraculously miss it.

This is what it means to be human in this world: to be in awe of the beauty in our lives and in creation, and to be tremendously vulnerable at the same time.  

But especially when a threat requires isolation, and closing the places we come together to learn, pray or celebrate, it can be hard to stand in awe and to be moved by a moment.  Our plans get put on hold and our dreams get put aside.  

Yet, in these very situations, it is our belief in community, in caring for each other, in our purpose and celebrating what is beautiful in life, that is all the more important.  

When our people fled slavery, barely escaping the Egyptian army as they crossed through the sea, they were so joyous and relieved that they sang. And then:

 וַתִּקַּח֩ מִרְיָ֨ם הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה אֲח֧וֹת אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַתֹּ֖ף בְּיָדָ֑הּ וַתֵּצֶ֤אןָ כָֽל־הַנָּשִׁים֙ אַחֲרֶ֔יהָ בְּתֻפִּ֖ים וּבִמְחֹלֹֽת׃

Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels.

Rashi brings two midrashim to this moment: when did Miriam prophesize? “Before Moshe was born she said, ‘My mother will at some time bear a son who will deliver Israel.’” This is why, even in a time of grave danger, when Moshe’s mother needed to put him in a basket into the Nile river, Miriam followed him and hid to see what would happen to him, and to see to it that he would survive to become what he needed to become. And now at the Song of the Sea, how was it that Miriam and the women had musical instruments with them when they were fleeing Egypt?! Rashi answers,  

מֻבְטָחוֹת הָיוּ צַדְקָנִיּוֹת שֶׁבַּדּוֹר שֶׁהַקָּבָּ”ה עוֹשֶׂה לָהֶם נִסִּים וְהוֹצִיאוּ תֻפִּים מִמִּצְרַיִם

The righteous women in that generation were confident that God would perform miracles for them so they brought timbrels with them from Egypt.

Miriam teaches us that even in times of uncertainty and fear to remember and believe that of course we will celebrate together again. In fact, we have to plan for it.

When we planned and prepared to watch the solar eclipse in 2017, there was some discussion about whether there was a brachah for that: the Talmud expresses opinions that an eclipse is a bad omen, and perhaps we shouldn’t say one. But for other powerful and spectacular events in nature, we do say a brachah. If we see wonders of nature like a comet, the ocean or tall mountains, we say

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם עֹשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂה בְרֵאשִׁית

Blessed are you God… who creates the works of Creation.

 If we hear thunder, we say

 בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעולָם שכחו וגבורתו מלא עולם

Blessed are you God… whose power and strength fill the world.

Is there a brachah to say when we see something powerful in nature that is also dangerous and scary?

At this moment, we are sharing pictures of a frightening and powerful virus; images of epidemic graphs and overrun hospitals. But we are also sharing another kind of image: scientists working intensely on a vaccine; doctors and nurses taking care of patients; an ordinary person standing outside reading the Megillah to a quarantined family. These images are both heartbreaking and wondrous at the same time. Is there a bracha for that? Perhaps,

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, רוֹפֵא כׇל בָּשָׂר וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשׂוֺת

Blessed are You, God, Healer of flesh, Maker of wonders.

May God bless the healers and those who need healing. And may our lives be filled exponentially with the good kind of wonders.


Lisi Levisohn is a child psychologist who also enjoys teaching Torah-Inspired science, Girl’s Tefillah and the Matan Bat Mitzvah program in her community, Silver Spring, MD.

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