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Home » Science

Crystals of Life

Submitted by on October 13, 2009 – 1:01 pmNo Comment | 2,671 views

A Celestial Impact

On Friday, October 9, 2009, NASA scientists intentionally crashed a 2.2 ton rocket into the moon to determine whether water exists on our closest celestial neighbor. The rocket’s impact – it came in at 5,600 mph, twice the speed of a bullet – threw up 772,000 pounds of lunar debris, creating a 6.2 mile high spray.

Trailing closely behind the rocket was the sophisticated L-CROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) which flew right though the debris and transmitted back to NASA images that scientists are scouring for evidence of ice. Flying so closely behind, the satellite also took the fatal plunge, plowing into the moon only four minutes behind the rocket.

(It is interesting to note that this mission was executed on Hoshannah Rabbah, the twenty second day of Tishrei. It is our tradition that G-d makes the final judgment regarding water and rainfall for the coming year on this day.)

Though trumpeted by NASA as a low cost satellite, the L-Cross – according to Northrop Grumman, the company contracted by NASA to build it – cost seventy-nine million dollars. The dimensions of this endeavor boggle the mind. We send a multi-million-dollar satellite into space, crash it into the moon, and throw up a six-mile plume of debris; all to uncover a single crystal of ice.

As of now, the satellite has been destroyed and we do not yet know whether any water has been found. But as I thought about this tremendous expenditure in the name of finding a tiny bit of water, a few parallels came to mind about our lives as Jews.

The satellite can serve as a metaphor for the soul. Just as the purpose of the satellite is to transmit information from distant places to us mortals below, the purpose of the soul is to transmit conviction and inspiration from On High to our conscious minds here below. And the moon can represent our physical bodies, which, like the moon, reflect the light of our souls.

G-d directs the soul – invaluable as it is – to make the long journey from its home in heaven to the Jewish body here on earth. Upon impact, the body comes to life and throws up a huge cloud of earthly concerns. This is the debris of life, filled with material needs, emotional desires, and psychological cravings. Life on earth is filled with the distraction of work, family, social obligations, and isolated moments of pleasure. It is driven by egocentric needs for recognition, pride, and fame. This is the cloud of debris that we call life.

Lost in this cloud is the soul, which is unable to muster the same celestial drive and ecstatic pleasure with which it worshiped in the heavens. Just like the satellite, upon impact, it can – to a certain extent – no longer transmit the images it was built to record; the soul, here on hearth, no longer serves G-d the way it was able to serve in heaven. Yet, to the soul and to its director, namely G-d, the journey is worthwhile because somewhere in this cloud of debris there are drops of water to be uncovered.

Life-giving, nourishing water is a metaphor for Torah (Talmud, Baba Kama 17a), and the Torah’s commandments can only be observed here on earth. For all its spiritual powers, the soul on high is unable to observe the Divine commandments. Like a satellite moored in a hangar at NASA, the soul in heaven is filled with potential, but unable to fulfill its purpose. It is only upon impact here below that the soul can perform its task. It vivifies the body and throws up a huge shower of debris, but it also transmits some of the spiritual yearning and inspiration with which it was filled above, and that makes the entire difference. When the dust settles, and the particles of debris are filtered through, there are holy crystals to be found; i.e., beautiful acts of kindness and holy mitzvah deeds.

Giving up the satellite is a great sacrifice, but finding the crystals makes the journey worthwhile. It is the purpose of life, and the purpose of creation.

This essay was inspired by a conversation with my dear colleague, Rabbi Avraham Keivman, from Liverpool, England.