Pressure and Lift

The developers of the first “flying machines” were faced with two options:

a) Using materials that are lighter than air (such as hot air, hydrogen, etc.). This is similar to Maimonides’ statement that wood floats because it is lighter than the water.

b) Copying birds’ movements: Pushing the air creates pressure, which lifts the aircraft.

Although the first method seems to be easier and more reliable, the second method is the one that was favored, and it is the main method of aviation nowadays.

In spiritual terms:

It is impossible to achieve true upward movement without opposition. Just as the air’s opposition is employed to create a stronger upward movement than that which could be obtained using flotation, so too for a person to transcend the materialism of the world and get closer to G‑d, it is not enough to involve the good inclination alone. It is specifically through the evil inclination’s opposition, and the resultant extra drive to overcome it, that one attains a more powerful lift and hence greater heights.

According to Chassidut, the reason that air at lower altitudes is warmer than higher air masses is that sunlight is strengthened when reflected by the ground. This is the advantage of a “reflected light” — which is strengthened upon facing opposition — over a “direct light”1 which has only its own strength. This, too, is the advantage of the Divine service of those who have faced adversity and overcome it — Ba’alei Teshuva (returnees [to G‑d]; literally, Masters of Return) — over those who were righteous all along.

Space Flight

All of the above is true only where there is an atmosphere. What is done where there is no atmosphere, or where the density of the air is very low? How can one generate upward movement in the absence of resistance? How can one travel in space?

Rather than dwelling on the scientific solution to this problem, we will focus instead on the spiritual analogue of such a mode of divine service. The prophet tells us2 that in the future all evil will be banished from the world. How then will we be able to continue ascending from level to level within goodness and holiness3 in the absence of opposition?

The absence of external opposition itself will create an internal, self-generated pressure within holiness itself. The attribute of chessed (loving-kindness) flows from above to below, i.e., from giver to recipient. Gevurah (stringency), on the other hand, is expressed through elevation, and a yearning for that which is higher. Through harmoniously blending the two and serving G‑d in both directions — a service which is an expression of the attribute of tiferet (splendor) — an “upward movement” is created. Thus, without any “external push,” one is able to reach ever higher, until the ultimate goal, when “Israel, the Torah, and the Holy One blessed be He, are all one.”4

Multi-Stage Rockets

One of the problems faced by the engineers of rockets and space shuttles was that of fuel. Sending a large and heavy craft to move around in space requires a tremendous quantity of fuel. However, the fuel — and the tanks to hold it — adds enormously to the weight of the spacecraft. This, in turn, requires even more fuel, resulting in an apparently insoluble dilemma. To resolve this, they divided the rocket into several sections. When a part of the journey is concluded, the fuel has been completely drained from that section. Then, that fuel tank can be separated from the main body of the rocket and dropped. The rocket, with the remaining fuel tanks, becomes lighter, and uses less energy for the next stage. This continues throughout. The other fuel tanks are also jettisoned, each at the proper time, and the rocket is able to continue on its way with less drag.

The lesson we can derive from this in our Divine service is as follows:

The Holy One Blessed Be He demands of the Jewish people to live a life of “form (spirituality) over matter.” That is not an easy job in this physical world, especially since we have an “evil inclination.” In order that our reward not be undeserved, it is necessary that there be some challenge, so that our service of G‑d should come as a result of our own free choice. But why do we need to be faced with such a great, heavy, and evil inclination, so much so that “he who is greater than his friends is also faced by a greater inclination?”5 Even a fight against a much more easily conquerable evil inclination would be enough to give our work meaning.

The explanation is: It is impossible to rise to great heights without an equal “quantity” of heavy physicality and materialism. However, the greater the quantity, the more energy needed to spur it to those heights. In order to jettison the “used” stages of the evil inclination — i.e. the aspects that the person has already overcome — there are three methods, depending on the person’s standing in his struggle between the good and evil inclinations:

The first stage of ascent in Divine service is to overcome the evil inclination. In this case, the struggle is fairly balanced between good and evil. Good’s victory, at this stage, is expressed only in the fact that the person’s actual behavior follows G‑d’s command. His thought, speech, and action are in accord with Torah’s demands, but his emotions — including the attributes of the evil inclination — are as strong as they ever were.6

The second stage is to destroy the evil inclination. Our Sages tell us7 that as a result of King David’s many fasts, he so weakened his evil inclination that he killed it. This is a stage at which the evil inclination has still not been completely transformed; it is still not assisting in Divine service, but it is no longer an obstacle either. It is the intermediate stage between forcibly overcoming the evil inclination, and the much higher stage of transforming it.

The third and ultimate stage in our Divine service is transformation. This is the stage when a righteous person has completely transformed his evil inclination to good, until it has become exactly like the good inclination. The Sages find a hint to this in the verse, “You chose Avram, and You found his heart (l’vavo) faithful before you.” The verse could have used the word lebo which has one letter bet but instead used l’vavo which uses a doubled letter vet, about which our Sages comment that his two hearts were faithful. Both hearts (“with all your hearts — with both your inclinations”) had become one in their faithfulness to G‑d, as in “he made of his enemy, his friend.”

Every victory in a specific area is followed by the removal of the evil inclination that accompanied that stage. In this way it becomes possible to progress from stage to stage, to become more and more pure, without needing to worry about too much “excess baggage.”

Environmental Risk Management

One of the major areas of concern in the planning of manned space missions was to avoid any damage or danger from bacteria whether space-borne or transported from earth. All precautions were taken regardless of cost, inconvenience or discomfort to the astronauts. Even germs that do not cause any damage on earth had to be avoided, for there could be surprising changes in the unknown environment of space. Thus, additional care was needed to avoid even possible danger.

From this we can derive a spiritual lesson. When there are changes in our world, whether technological, societal, etc., we must be aware of them and take special care to respond with increased watchfulness in areas of good and holiness. Our Sages tell us8 “every day’s curse is greater than the one before.” The intent is not to frighten, Heaven forbid. Rather, we must be aware that since the physical and material aspects of the world are constantly changing, it is insufficient to maintain the same spiritual level that we achieved in the past. Rather we must constantly add to and grow in areas of holiness every day, “continuously brightening and illuminating.” Only then can we overcome the added materialism in the world, and even utilize it and transform it to holiness.

In the Same Boat – Aloft or Afloat

“Will one person sin, and You will be angry at the entire community?” (Bamidbar, 16:22). Said Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai: This can be compared to people sitting in a boat. One of them took a shovel and began to dig underneath his seat. “What are you doing?” demanded his friends. “What concern is it of yours?” he responded. “Am I not digging under my own seat?” They said to him: “Yes, but the waters will come up and drown the entire boat.”

(Vayikra Rabba, 4:5)

Astronauts who wish to travel on a space shuttle flight are instructed by Central Command in advance exactly how they must eat, sleep, dress, and behave in all areas of their life. They are told that any deviation can cause the waste of all that has been invested in the process, billions of dollars. When a person hears such “respectable” sums, he acts towards it with awe, even if the money is not his but “Uncle Sam’s.”

This is true whether or how much he understands the benefits of these specific directions, or the damage caused by refusing to follow them. Only the experts on the ground, who spent years researching the issues, know all the specific details. Similarly, an astronaut doesn’t make the mistake of thinking, “I’m just one of three, so what difference does it make if I don’t do everything I should? I’m just the minority.” He is certain of the fact that any deviation from his instructions puts his colleagues at risk as well.

On this basis, we may respond to a question that has caused much unjustified confusion and equivocation among those whose job it is to clarify such matters:

According to Jewish law,9 if a person eats an amount of non-Kosher food equal to the size of an olive, a Jewish court would be obligated to punish him with thirty-nine lashes. The question then is: How can we meddle in someone’s private life? What about personal privilege and the right to privacy?

True, in order to actually administer the lashes, the court needs two proper witnesses who first warned him about the punishment, and then he had to tell them that he would transgress anyway. They also have to ascertain that he ate the forbidden food immediately following that warning. The combination of all of these factors is extremely rare. Nevertheless, that still does not explain the punishment itself: Why is this person’s private choice to eat a forbidden food considered a matter of public concern?!

The Mishna states:10 “Man was created alone, for every person must say: For me the world was created.” This world, as well as all of the spiritual realms leading to it, was created for each and every person individually. Maimonides makes a similar statement:11 “A person should always view himself and the entire world as if it is exactly balanced. If he does one Mitzvah, he is meritorious, for he has weighed himself and the entire world to the side of merit, and he has caused for himself and for all, salvation and redemption. If he commits one transgression, woe is to him, for he has weighed himself and the entire world to guilt.”

Contemplating the situation is sufficient to reach an understanding of this matter. A person chooses not to restrain himself, and as a result of indulging his desires, hurts not only himself but also his family, the people of his city, his country, and indeed the entire world! Moreove, after he was clearly warned by two witnesses, he proceeded to transgress immediately, rather than seeking out some kosher food instead. When one thinks about it, the question is reversed: Why does the court only punish this person with thirty-nine lashes, after having committed such a terrible act!? It is only because of G‑d’s mercy.

Little Things Count

One of the central issues regarding the flight to the moon was the topic of cost. Billions of dollars were spent, money which could have been spent fueling decades of much-needed social programs. Instead it was invested in this flight, which lasted just a few days.

There is a lesson to be learned corresponding to the statement of our Sages:12 “Do not sit and weigh the value of the Torah’s commandments.” Rather, “the lightest of the light and the weightiest of the weighty are equal.”13

It would seem that this statement is self-contradictory. If there is no place for comparisons, how can we talk about “lighter” and “weightier” commandments? Indeed there is a difference. Nonetheless we are to fulfill them equally, with the same alacrity, dedication, and attention, regardless to which of the two categories a particular commandment belongs. Why indeed should we fulfill them all equally?

The answer may be derived from the flight to the moon. Here too, there are major and minor issues. The space shuttle itself consists of parts whose manufacture requires much time, and whose complexity requires the involvement of the greatest scientists. Sometimes it is even necessary to create working groups among experts from different fields. All this adds tremendously to the cost of the project.

On the other hand, there are also “simple” parts, for which no particular expertise is needed. These are components, which are readily available, require no expert input, and therefore do not consume much time or money.

In order for the space shuttle to work, both types are needed. Just as the craft will not fly without the complicated components, so too will it not leave the ground without the simplest of its parts.

For Want of a Bolt

Recently a journey to the moon had to be delayed because of a very simple problem – one bolt was loose. It was a very simple matter. One need not be especially wise to tighten it. Yet, when it comes to a mission, it makes no difference which detail is missing, a minor part or a major one. In order to reach the moon, each and every detail is essential.

In fact, the bolt was not actually missing. It was there, but it wasn’t fulfilling its purpose — to attach two separate pieces. As a result, the mission had to be delayed. Thus if even the smallest component is not fulfilling its purpose, it may affect the entire mission. The complex, major parts also need the simple, minor ones.

The same is true in spiritual terms:

“Don’t sit and weigh.” There are commandments that are clearly delineated in the Torah, and there are customs that are not stated at all. Yet, “Jewish customs are Torah.” They must be fulfilled with the same energy as the direct commands of the Torah. Of course, customs are not Scriptural obligations. Indeed, generally one does not recite a blessing when performing a custom,14 and if one does it is considered a blessing in vain. Moreover if there is a conflict between a commandment and a custom, the commandment overrides the custom. Nonetheless one should fulfill customs with the same excitement as one does commandments.

Every Person has a Unique Role

As in the above example, although individuals with specialized expertise must ensure that not a single component is missing or dysfunctional, yet they should not be personally involved in tightening screws and bolts. Regarding Torah study, we are told: “One who is capable of in-depth study and instead dedicates himself only to quick perusal is guilty of wasting time from Torah.”15

This, too, we can derive from the moon mission. Surely, simple things are also needed for the mission to be successful. However, if highly skilled people who should be involved in more complex matters, busy themselves with the “bolts,” it would be a serious waste of human resource.

Someone who is capable of being a “diamond-cutter” should not become a baker, nor a farmer — jobs that are not as highly skilled.

The same is true in other matters as well. Someone whose job it is to deal with major issues may not squander his energies on relatively minor concerns. Nonetheless, in order to achieve the goal, both types of work are needed. And if minor components are of monumental importance in material concerns, where generally speaking “bigger is better”, how much more so is it relevant in the realm of the spiritual, where quality is of greater import.

The Moon Mission

To successfully land a man on the moon, a tremendous investment of effort and care was required to execute every detail according to plan. Yet despite all this, it is still no more than a pale metaphor for the journey of the Jewish soul, which issues forth from “beneath the Throne of Glory,” and travels all the way down to this lowly physical and material world.

The distance to the moon is approximately 385,000 kilometers. In the final analysis, traveling there is qualitatively like the flight of any rocket within the earth’s atmosphere. It is just a greater distance.

The soul’s descent is an incomparably greater journey. Above it is “tied in the bundle of life with G‑d,”16 standing before Him with love and fear. There it sees and experiences how G‑d is the source of all life, and how the entire physical existence is no more than a manifold limitation and contraction of His infinite energy. At the culmination of this descent, suddenly, in one drastic, quantum-like drop, the soul descends from “a high peak to a deep pit,” to this physical and material world, where the “eternal truth of G‑d”17 is concealed and hidden. Here the Divine presence is so eclipsed that it is possible for a person to transgress G‑d’s will without even realizing it. This descent is infinitely greater both qualitatively and quantitatively than the distance man must travel to reach even the most distant stars!

Tremendous spiritual energy is invested to effect the soul’s descent into this world, beyond any effort on the soul’s part. Moreover just as a successful moon launch requires proper timing and positioning, so does man’s mission in the physical world. Much detailed planning goes into defining parameters for each particular body as matched to each specific soul, at precisely the right time and location. All these considerations are needed in order to ease the soul’s burden and make it easier for it to accomplish its mission — making the world into a dwelling place for G‑d.

The soul is sent down to this world with a very well defined mission. Even the days and hours granted to it are exact, no more and no less than are needed to accomplish the soul’s mission. The verse states:18 “The days were fashioned, and they are one for him,” i.e., the fashioned days are exactly the number required to unite the world with its Creator. In other words, the purpose of the soul’s descent is for the sake of a greater ascent,19 to become closer to G‑d, so that “the spirit will return to the G‑d who gave it.”20 Our job is merely to “push various buttons,” for example, opening our hearts and minds to G‑d through putting on Tefillin. We must dress ourselves in space suits, i.e., be “uniformed with Mitzvot,” through wearing Tzitzit, etc. Then, He who sits in the heavens will direct everything in the best possible manner through His “control panel” including, if the Jew needs it, being awarded a “medal” by the nations of the world, as the Verse states, “Blessed shall you be from all the nations.”21

The Ability to Reach the Moon

In the past, it was commonly held — based on “scientific conclusions” — that such a journey was impossible, mainly because of the great speeds required. People claimed that the ship would break apart, burn up, etc. Yet despite all these predictions, every stage of the mission was completed successfully. This serves as a lesson that rational speculation is not at all certain, nor should we regard it as such. It is always possible that in the future, a person will see things very differently than he does now.

Of course, science changes and develops constantly. But with all of its development, we must always remember that man’s intellect can never grasp G‑d’s plan, which must remain infinitely greater than we are. It is therefore evident that even if at some period in scientific development, it seems that science devalues faith in G‑d and the truth of Torah, one should nonetheless recognize that such challenges have no substance since science cannot really negate faith at all.

Some argue that the Verse, “The heavens belong to G‑d, and the earth He gave to human beings,”22 provides ‘clear proof” that it would be impossible to land on the moon. According to their understanding, this meant that people have neither the right nor the ability to reach the heavenly spheres.

The truth is that the word Shamayim, “heaven,” in the Torah has many different interpretations, starting with “the birds of the heavens”23 all the way through to “G‑d is in heaven and you are on earth.”24 It is interesting to note that in King Solomon’s famous prayer,25 these two very different interpretations appear together: “When the heavens are withheld and there is no rain… and You hear in the heavens.” It would seem that there is some relationship between the two meanings. Whatever the case is, there is no evidence at all that the ‘proof’ text’s purported intent is regarding heavenly bodies, even though it is said about them26 “and G‑d placed them in the skies, in the heavens.”

The entire question has no basis in the first place. Would anyone assume that the verse27 “the high mountains are for the wild goats, the rocks are a place of refuge for the hares” means to imply that people may not climb or sit on mountains or rocks?

G‑d created the heavenly spheres in order to to give light, warmth, and energy. For this purpose, He set their place in the heavens, far away from the earth. It wasn’t intended to remove them from the arena of human engagement. The fact that G‑d created the moon and set it high in the sky to provide light at night did not negate in any way the possibility that at some point in time man would land on the moon.

The true meaning of the Verse “The heavens belong to G‑d, and the earth He gave to human beings” is: Although G‑d is everywhere, in this physical world as well as in the spiritual realms (the heavens), He established that man’s place is on “the earth” — in the physical universe, including the physical heavens and everything that in any way affects humanity.

Some people see the success of the moon mission as a test of faith. They reason as follows: A person may feel that we have reached such great accomplishments, things that were not even imaginable just decades ago. This may lead to the vain notion that “my might and the strength of my hand have attained all this for me.”28 When faced with this test, these people remind themselves of the fact G‑d has facilitated these achievements. They are not disturbed from their prayers and Torah study by the latest news.

This is especially true when they remember that Jews are a unique people, as the Verse states,29 “And your nation and I [Moshe] will be distinguished from all the people on the face of the earth.” They satisfy themselves that with this approach, they have already measured up to the religious challenge posed by space travel.

However, this is not enough. We must derive from these journeys positive messages that help us to strengthen our faith. It is true that faith itself is a basic quality of every Jew, and as such does not require strengthening. However its impact upon our intellect, emotions and actions does indeed need encouragement and strengthening, for if not, it will have no more than a superficial effect on our thinking. About such a limited degree of faith there is a Talmudic discussion30 about a thief who, standing at the mouth of his tunnel trying to break into a home, prays for success, “Master of the Universe, help me!”

Of course G‑d himself does not become any “greater” by virtue of our recognition of His wondrous deeds. Yet our awareness does contribute substantially to our feelings. There is no comparison between a king over a small country and a king over a great and mighty one. Thus, the greater our recognition of “how manifold are Your creations, O G‑d”31 and “How diverse are your creations, O G‑d”32 — i.e. the more we recognize the vastness of the King of Kings’ creation — the deeper and broader becomes our recognition of the greatness of their Creator. “Lift your eyes unto the heavens and see Who created these.”33

Maimonides explains:34 “What is the path to love and fear of G‑d? Meditating upon His awesome and great actions and creations.” The same is explained in Chassidic works, especially the “Book of Philosophy” by the Tzemach Tzedek: The more one recognizes the vastness of creation, the greater is his perspective on the infinite greatness of G‑d.

This lesson is so powerfully clear and obvious that even the non-Jewish astronauts chose to read Chapter 8 of Psalms while on the moon. “What is man that You should remember him, and the son of man that You should pay him heed?” Man’s success in managing the world was given to him by G‑d. “You have made him but little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honor. You have put all things under his feet.” G‑d granted mankind dominion over all that He created — to a certain extent, even over the moon and the stars — so that he should recognize G‑d’s greatness. When he does so, his control does not cause him haughtiness but rather love and fear of G‑d, as the Psalm concludes: “O G‑d, our Lord, how great is Your name in all the earth.”

One Great Leap or One Small Step?

With regard to the vain pride that has seized many people, as if they “beat the Creator” who created the moon so far away:

Even regarding human accomplishments in areas of G‑d’s Torah and its laws, G‑d declares:35 “My children have been victorious over me!” and He is joyous about this declaration. How much more so would this be true with regard to development and growth within areas of worldly activity. The only caveat is that man must never forget the original source, G‑d. He must always remember that everything comes from Him, and not be mesmerized by the natural wonders that conceal His hand.

With regard to the idea that the success of the moon mission was a great “revolution”: I am surprised that among all those who addressed the “questions of faith” raised by landing on the moon, nobody seemed to recognize that it isn’t at all any type of scientific revolution. Even those technological innovations that were utilized did not include any breakthroughs. Such applications cannot at all be compared to true scientific upheavals, such as atomic theory. That was indeed a revolution as it negated many well-established principles of classical physics, and has implications even with regard to free choice, the concept of miracles and nature (negating the theory of determinism through Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle”), etc.

Kiddush Levanah” – Sanctifying the Moon

Some people were taken aback by the moon landing, and they felt that they must now alter the prayers we recite monthly to sanctify the moon, since in it we say: “Just as I jump towards you and I cannot touch you, so should my enemies not be able to reach me for harm.” According to them, this implies that it is impossible to reach the moon. They say that this liturgy needs to be changed! And if that must be changed, it creates a doubt about the reliability of our prayer book altogether.

The Siddur (prayer book) originates entirely from holy sources. This prayer, specifically, is rooted in Mesechet Sofrim36 (with minor variations), as is discussed in Tur Orach Chaim37. It even discusses there the “jumps” that we do during this prayer. Elsewhere,38 the Tur quotes his brother Rabeinu Yechiel that there are hints and meanings attached even to the number of words in our prayers. Although this is said with regard to the Amidah prayer it is true concerning the other prayers as well. At any rate, one who does not understand the hidden meanings, and who does not know even the simple interpretation, is certainly not competent to make changes to the accepted liturgy. If you ask even a five year old the meaning of this passage, he would reply: “Just as I now jump towards you and cannot — with this jump — reach you, so should my enemies not be able to reach me for harm.”

This jumping is not a purely spiritual issue, relevant only to mystics and the esoteric parts of Torah. In Derashot HaRan39, as well as in several other sources, it is explained that the prophets were instructed to connect their prophecies with a physical action: “Go forth and purchase a bottle,”40 “lie on your right side,”41 etc. This was in order that the prophecy should be expressed in physical activity, which led to the quicker fulfillment of the rest of the prophecy as well.42 We, too, wish to immediately connect our request that “our enemies not be able to touch us” with a practical action. The way we do this is by jumping.

It is worthy to note that the Levush asks:43 Why do we jump, rather than, say, point a finger? The answer is that by jumping we express our joy. While a slight joy might be expressed solely in speech, a greater one will be accompanied by hand-clapping, and the greatest joy encompasses the entire soul until it moves even our feet — the limbs that are furthest from the brain and head.

Life on Other Planets

The question as to whether life exists on other planets44100 of Sichat HaShavua, which is published by Merkaz Tzeirei Agudas Chabad in Israel (Shoftim, 5749), Professor Velvel Green quotes a personal response he received from the Rebbe, in which the Rebbe encouraged him to continue his research in this area: “One who declares that there is no life besides on earth is limiting the Creator’s abilities.” 45Chagigah, 5b.466a.476a.48Shoftim, 5:23.49Cf. “Shita LeTalmid R”I Mafrish” on Mo’ed Katan, Jerusalem 5697, fn. 16.50This exchange was first published in Russian in HaTechiya5736,51 According to Torah, is there a possibility that there exist other civilizations besides on earth?

His response: According to the Torah, there may be extra-terrestrial life forms. Mention of these is found in the Talmud. Civilizations, however, which would mean intelligent life forms,52 are a different story. According to Torah, a defining quality of intelligent life is — as is the case with man — the presence of free choice. Moreover the existence of free choice and man’s ability to utilize it is only possible by virtue of the Torah.53

Therefore, if we were to assume that there was intelligent life somewhere else in the universe they would have to have Torah. That is impossible. They cannot have their own, different, Torah, since the Torah is truth, and there can be only one truth. Yet, it is also impossible to assume that they have our Torah. After all, the story of how the Torah was given to the Jewish people here on earth is described in the Torah in great detail. Much attention is focused on these details, because they are important for our very understanding of the Torah.

In other words, according to Judaism’s viewpoint, it is possible that life exists elsewhere in the universe,54 but societies of intelligent or human-like life do not exist anywhere but on earth.

Sources for this chapter:

Likutei Sichot, vol. 15, p. 479.

Sichot Kodesh(unedited) 5729, vol. 1, p. 252. vol. 2, pp. 341-f, 341-v, 413.

Sichot Kodesh5733, vol. 1, p. 240.

Emunah U’Mada, pp. 106, 137.