Thursday evening we were invited to a home for a roundtable Torah discussion. We wanted to find a topic that would be interesting for all of the participants—from the most learned scholar to the Jew who knows next to nothing about his heritage.

After tossing around ideas we settled on, “Whose business is it if I choose to sin?”

We drew a lesson that was both timely and very close to home for me. Here is the nugget of wisdom that was a central point of our discussion:

The space shuttle has been in the news lately. After 30 years, it is retiring.

Going back in history, soon after man’s first trip around the moon, Rabbi Zalman Posner (my great-uncle) was a guest on a popular Jewish radio talk show. The discussion focused on why and how Judaism dares to interfere with the private lives of individual human beings. Is it right for the Torah to choose how a person may act, and even punish him for lighting a match on Shabbat or eating unkosher food?

Uncle Zalman had some good points, explaining how the seemingly cruel punishments were very rarely, if ever, carried out.

The following Shabbat, the Rebbe discussed the same issue and pointed out that the answer can be found in the events of the day.

Man had just been around the moon. The astronauts on board had a long list of dos and don’ts. They were told how to sit, which buttons to press, and exactly when to press them. “Now what would happen,” asked the Rebbe, “if one of the fellows on board would choose to smoke a cigarette on board? Is it not his right to smoke if he wants to?” Of course it is out of the question, as doing so would jeopardize the mission and the lives of their fellow travelers. But even more than that, the astronauts are not on board as tourists or as private individuals. They represent their nation and humanity. To paraphrase a famous astronaut, “one misstep for man is a giant misstep for mankind.”

In the same way, each of us is an astronaut on a mission. Or job is to bring the universe to a state of universal perfection. Our actions have universal implications, and we must be aware of this fact and act accordingly.

For a more detailed transcript of the Rebbe’s talk, check out this article on

The topic was a hit, and a long and meaningful conversation ensued.