Why would someone spend millions of dollars of his own money only to spend 10 minutes and 10 seconds in space?
That was the question that comes to mind when Blue Origin blasted off — and landed safely — sending Jeff Bezos and its three other crew members up toward space, and making history for private space flight.
The Baal Shem Tov taught us that “from everything a person sees or hears, he must derive a lesson in the services of his creator.” Indeed, this event — and its every aspect and detail — is full of instructive insights into our mission in life.
There’s something that’s so uniquely human to be fascinated by anything space-related. The other species don’t care too much about it. Animals care mainly about their immediate needs: food, shelter, recreation, and maybe protecting their counterparts. We, on the other hand, are always curious. From the dawn of time, we would gaze to the stars, dreaming to reach those far-away places. It’s in our DNA.
This is how G-d created us. He wanted us to never be satisfied with our own limitations, and to always reach further.
Defying gravity and floating in space is mesmerizing for us because it means we are not bound by the laws of nature that apply down below. We transcend our own existence into something higher.
This idea is very much a part of Judaism. So much so that G-d had asked the Jewish people to designate a space dedicated to self-transcendence, a space that allows people to let go of their typical self-focus, and experience something higher. That place was called Beit Hamikdash, the holy temple in Jerusalem.
Our sage relates the many miracles that took place at the holy temple, and how the holiest section of it — the Kodesh Hakodashim, “holy of holies”) defied the laws of physics. It was a place to see and feel G-d’s presence in the world.
At public gatherings following the first manned lunar orbit and manned lunar landing, the rebbe — Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, of righteous memory — concurred the human being has performed something magnificent. There is much in which to take pride.
But does that make us so large as to displace G-d? Just the opposite! We only know the greatness of the creator from the greatness of his creations. Now that we see he has created a being that is capable of such creative ingenuity, how much greater must be the one that formed this creature and endowed him with intellect?
At the same time, the rebbe continued, we also have provided ourselves yet more reason to be humble: If so many brilliant scientists could be so wrong about the impossibility of space travel and a moon landing, how many more of our current estimations are also wrong?
And then another perspective: When we want to see the greatness of the creator, we lift up our eyes to the heavens, as the verse goes, “raise your eyes heavenward and you will see: Who created these?”
If from down on the ground looking up we can attain such enlightenment, all the more so when we can view the stars and galaxies — and our own planet as well — from beyond our atmosphere. And from that view of a vast creation, we step up to an entirely new level of conception of the infiniteness of its creator as well as our own smallness before him.
Now we can look down upon ourselves and see how small we are within this unimaginably immeasurable expanse of a universe, which itself is truly and absolutely nothing before the reality of its creator.
We can learn much from the way the moon landing was orchestrated. NASA took three men and told them ahead of time that they would have to ignore their own personal wills and behave — to the last detail — according to the instructions they would be given from their superiors.
If they wanted to eat, they would eat only when and what they would be allowed. The same would go for sleeping, and even for what shoes they would be allowed to wear. Each astronaut was informed that a slight deviation from instructions in any of his actions could cause the loss of billions of dollars, and endanger all his colleagues in the spaceship.
We learn from this how crucial a single action by one man can be. The astronaut follows his orders precisely, for he knows full well that whatever he does affects not only himself, but the others in the spaceship with him. From this we may learn a lesson in our service of G-d through Torah, and adhering to the commandments of G-d: What an individual does has an effect not only on himself and his family, it has an effect on the whole city where he lives. And on the entire world.
The author is a rabbi with Chabad of Mineola on Long Island.
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