Torah For Today! This week: The Moon landings

Torah For Today! This week: The Moon landings

Rabbi Garry Wayland takes a topical issue and applies an Orthodox Jewish response

The Moon
The Moon

Few phrases encapsulate the ambition, ingenuity and dedication of humanity in the way of Neil Armstrong’s famous line: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

An incredible technological and scientific feat, the Apollo missions marked a change in the way that we view not only space, but life itself.

The Jewish calendar beats according to the pulse of the moon. Rosh Chodesh, the New Month, is calculated to align with the Molad – the appearance of the new Moon every 29-and-a-half or so days. There are several prayers and ceremonies that mark the New Moon.

Beforehand, we announce its coming with Birkat Hachodesh, the day itself is semi-festive, and afterwards there is a prayer, said at night when the light of the moon is significant enough for its effects to be noticeable. Our sages make a particularly profound comment about this prayer: “Greeting the New Moon is like greeting the presence of the Divine.”

It is hard to imagine the feelings those living in the pre-scientific era must have felt when they looked up at the Moon. We can glean some sense from the comments of our classic commentators.

“Through the movements of the Moon we gain a sense of the might of God and His deeds…” (Levush, 16th century) and “Through the blessing of the Moon the Divine Presence is drawn down into this world,” (Racanti, 13th century.).

Some emphasise the Moon being a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people, constantly waxing and waning until the end of time with the coming of the Messiah. We may no longer get these feelings often when we look up towards the heavens, even on the occasions we can see past the light pollution
and aeroplanes.

Yet when I was watching the footage of the Moon landings from 50 years ago, listening to the recordings and reading about the miracles, I found myself with a definitive answer to Khrushchev’s question of Yuri Gagarin: “Was God up there?” For me, the answer is most definitely yes.

  • Rabbi Garry Wayland is a teacher and educator for US Living and Learning


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