COLlive presents this story with permission from JEM and Kehos Publication Society, the producers and publishers of the book “Early Years.”
SHABBAT, 28 TEVET (JANUARY 24) | YEKATERINOSLAV, UKRAINE
A solar eclipse occurs on this day, viewable from several vantage points on earth, although not from Yekaterinoslav.
Yeshayahu Sher, who frequented the Schneerson home in his youth, recalls: The star charts covering the walls of Mendel’s room were testimony to his special interest in this subject. Apart from his daily study regimen in Talmud, Jewish law and Chasidic philosophy, he spent a good deal of time deciphering the movements of the stars and planets through precise mathematical calculations.
He studied this during the period when he made his many journeys to his relative, the Lubavitcher Rebbe [Rayatz], who lived in Leningrad. During these visits, Mendel would sometimes visit the world-famous Pulkovo Observatory.
Why do I explain all this? To preface the following event that took place during the winter of 5685 (1925).
On one of my visits to the Schneerson home — I believe this was in the beginning of February — Mendel disclosed to us that according to his mathematical calculations, a solar eclipse should occur on February 25 of that year. Myself, Yona Kesse, 43 and a family friend of theirs — Mitya Gurary, another sharp-witted Chasidic young man — were awestruck by Mendel’s ability to forecast this event. Mitya nodded in acceptance of Mendel’s pronouncement, saying: “You can be certain that Mendel’s prediction is accurate.”
As usual, I told the entire story to my brother Betzalel, my friends, and my family. I waited impatiently for the day to arrive. As the days and weeks passed, I prepared darkened glass in order to watch the disappearing sun and the darkness that would follow.
Finally, the day I had been anticipating arrived. But the sun shone as usual, its rays gleaming off the white snow just as they always had. There was no eclipse; none at all.
Of course, this did not affect my usual habit of visiting my friend Leibel (the Rebbe’s brother). During our brief conversation, Mendel joined in, but I could see that he wasn’t his usual self. In passing, I cautiously offered my sympathies that the long-awaited eclipse had not occurred — because I had prepared for it. My words provoked something in Mendel, pulling him out of his serenity. He declared unequivocally and with great confidence that his calculations were correct, and he was prepared to demonstrate them to an expert in the field.
A day or two later, I saw an article in the weekly journal Ogoniok (Little Flame), stating that a solar eclipse had indeed been visible at three different points on the globe, but not in our part of the world. Scientific expeditions had gone to these places to view and research the phenomenon and to draw conclusions.
During my next visit to the Schneerson home, I made sure to tell him of the article. He responded happily. His face lit up. He was at peace that his endeavors in the field of astronomy had indeed been proven reliable.
THE REBBE RECALLS
Ogoniok — “Little Flame”
In 5751 (1990), when Mr. Vitaly Korotich, Editor-in-Chief of Ogoniok, visited the Rebbe, the Rebbe noted: When I lived in Russia, I read Ogoniok. Since then many things have changed, probably for the better. As you are one of those who must inspire change, you should enlighten others through your flame. May yours be
a fire that does not consume, but one that increases in strength — to soar higher in a good way. May you succeed to influence all your readers in this way.
And if, from time to time, you would send the magazine here, I will be among them, as well!