I remember when I first realized how little a person can really control. I remember sensing the world crumbling like my childhood sandcastle in coastal winds, while I quickly added more sand and water as if I could somehow salvage what could have been.

Of course, my human patchwork efforts couldn't hold up a universe, and all too soon I watched it get torn down in a fury, threatening to tear me down along with it. With one hand on the earth, because it was all I could grasp, and the other hand clutching a book on faith close to my chest—as if I could grasp faith with my fingers—I watched You take over.

I quickly added more sand and water

It wasn't pretty, but tug-of-war never is. I wasn't ready to let go easily, nor was I willing to go quietly. You were kind; You let me make some noise—enough noise to make me think I had a say, but not enough to deafen what I needed to learn.

Sometimes I find myself still holding on, like a fool—as if I can run life from this tiny space that my five-foot-two-inch frame takes up on the globe. When I do, I remind myself to let go—if not all at once, then at least bit by bit. Reluctantly, I uncurl my fingers that are gripping tightly to the edge of the planet, I release my jaw that thinks it plays some role in my diaphragmatic breathing, and I let You in. Not because I've lost a battle, but because this was never a battle to begin with.

Some sixty-two miles above sea level, the air becomes so thin that no vehicle with wings can fly beyond it. This altitude in the thermosphere—named “the Kármán line” after Jewish aerospace engineer Theodore von Kármán—is where aeronautics ends and astronautics begins, demanding orbital velocity to maintain stable flight.

To me, this theoretical edge of space, where air is virtually nonexistent and thus wings rendered useless, represents those moments in life when we can no longer depend on our atmosphere to keep us airborne. Those turning points in our quest for elevation when we must relinquish everything we know about navigating life, and surrender to a force much greater than our own if we seek to be propelled beyond the boundary of an earthly existence.

It takes the mind-boggling speed of seventeen thousand miles per hour to safely orbit the earth just beyond the Kármán line. It takes yielding to the power of that rocket, trusting that what happens after launch has less to do with us and more to do with a process outside of our control.

Personally, I’d rather orbit our earth with my feet on solid ground. But there’s one thing that happens in spaceflight that you just can’t experience if you prefer to stay safely grounded: constant weightlessness.

Of course, weightlessness isn’t about being in a gravity-free environment; after all, the pull of gravity at the Kármán line is only three percent less than at the surface of our planet. Rather, the astronaut’s experience of feeling weightless is due to his synchronized acceleration with his orbiting ship. Thus, buoyed by a perfect balance of inertia and gravity, he begins to live the wonder of freefall.

The Midrash tells us, “Ashrei adam she’HaMakom hodeh l’dvarav—Fortunate is the person with whose word the Holy One concurs.”1

If I am to be fortunate enough for G‑d and me to concur—to travel this life at the same speed—I really ought to determine His pace. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov taught that G‑d is recreating our universe every nanosecond—constant, ever-present activity. Perhaps moving in tandem with G‑d means that I am neither to rush forward nor slow down, but rather to simply be acutely present in every breathing moment. Perhaps, G‑d moves at no pace—perhaps, instead, G‑d is the place.

The above Midrash calls G‑d HaMakom, literally, "The Place"—why? Said Rabbi Jose ben Chalafta: “We do not know whether G‑d is the place of His world or whether His world is His place. But when the verse states, ‘Behold, there is a place with Me,’2 it follows that G‑d is the place of His world, but His world is not His place.”3

What a shame to live thinking that G‑d is in this place when He is the very place itself! TheMust we move to heaven to experience infinite ethereality? difference is grave, you see, for if the world is His place, we’re bound to feel weighted. Although gravity is at play on every layer of the earth’s atmosphere, living on the surface is where the stationary ground stops us from moving further, where the air resistance reminds us how heavily we’re at the mercy of atmospheric drag. Indeed, it is the earthiness of life that prevents us from freefalling with G‑d.

So what is life like if G‑d Himself is The Place? Must we move to heaven to experience infinite ethereality? I think not. Perhaps we simply need to learn how to live beyond the Kármán line—at that breathtaking edge, where worldliness meets Divinity.

At the Kármán line, where oxygen is gone and our wings fail, we are challenged to give up everything we know in order to remain in meaningful flight. At that untouchable boundary dividing earth’s atmosphere from outer space, we enter HaMakom, The Place—a relationship with a G‑d who is connected to the mundane, aware of our struggles, understanding of our dichotomous lives, yet who asks us not to succumb to the grind of this world, not to plummet to the earth, but to keep up with an orbital speed so magnificent that we can continue flying where even air is nonexistent. It’s where we interact with the earthly but never conflict with it, because we are traveling in precise calibration with our Creator.

Perhaps the author of our Midrash is offering humankind a perspective which thrusts as far and deep as earth’s thermosphere, drawing on the etymology of the Hebrew words as follows: “Ashrei adam,” Man is happy; “she’HaMakom,” because when he connects to G‑d as The Place, when he recognizes how to journey with the Divine in the now; “hodeh l’dvarav,” he has the capacity to be grateful for all that he has.

If we’re willing to unabashedly align ourselves with G‑d, if we’re brave enough to be utterly vulnerable to The Place, then, like the surrendered ship in spaceflight beyond the Kármán line, we will find that we are in fact not colliding with our earth but rather perfectly matching its curve, covering more horizontal distance than ever as we joyfully freefall, and traveling an orbit whose bends are gentler than any turn on a man-made roadway.

What a relief to not be in control, what a joy, this sense of surrender! What a comfort to know that we don't have to travel out of our galaxy to feel G‑d, that we don't have to look up or down, that if we let go, we won't go. How refreshing to travel weightlessly, where the debris of terrestrial life is forever pulled into a current that takes it precisely where it needs to go.

Some things will always remain just beyond our reach

And those moments when we fall out of orbit—because we will—are there to remind us that we aren't gods. That no matter how tightly we close our fists, we'll still never take over the reins of our lives. That even if we’re finally standing in The Place, we will not have arrived. Because The Place is dynamic, constantly renewing faster than light speed, forever demanding that we refashion our faith yet again, reminding us, at the edge of every turn, that there is nowhere to arrive—nowhere to arrive, but everywhere to be. That some things will always remain just beyond our reach—perhaps even just a hairsbreadth beyond, only so that we never stop moving in search of it.

I used to think that life throws you back, and when it does, hanging tight to your wings is all you can do to get through the ride. Now I know that life throws you up. Up, up, far beyond the Kármán line. For a moment, in the thrust, you lose your breath. But it’s a kind of breathlessness your lungs have been craving for years. And just as soon as you exhale into the freefall, you discover that you aren't falling at all, but rather that you're in a perfect orbit, propelled by the wondrous balance of HaMakom, The Place. So relinquish the weight of your wings, because up here, the less you have, the further you travel.