29 July 2021 Jewish News
Torah For Today Space tourism
BY HANNAH REUBEN There is a law teaching we must recite 100 brachot (blessings) every day. A hint to this can be found in this week’s sedra, “And now, O Israel, what (mah) does the Lord your God demand of you?” (Deut 10:12). The word mah (what) can be read as me’ah, meaning a hundred. Shacharit (the morning service) consists of 44 brachot, so it would seem benching (grace after meals) with its four brachot is not that unique. Yet it turns out that the only bracha we are biblically commanded to recite is benching (Deut 8:10). Benching contains three original brachot: Hazan commanded by Moses, thanking God for providing manna; Nodeh, decreed by Joshua thanking God for the land; and Rachem, a prayer for Jerusalem decreed by David and Solomon. We are taught that if one does not say the words “a desirable, good and extensive land” in the blessing of the land and does not mention the
house of King David in the blessing “who builds Jerusalem”, one has not performed their obligation of benching. Why is appreciating Israel the focus of thanking God after eating? Rav Kook identifies the land of Israel as the place of our nation and we should dedicate our energy to it and the people of Israel to bring redemption. The building of Jerusalem represents the spiritual foundation to which we should dedicate ourselves. It seems that in Hazan we thank God for life, but in Nodeh and in Rachem we praise God for something greater. Although we mention leaving Egypt, the Torah and the covenant, the land of Israel and Jerusalem are above all. They give us life in times of redemption or exile on a practical level and as giving us hope. More than anything else, it is the Land of Israel and Jerusalem that give us purpose and meaning. ◆ Hannah Reuben is part of United Synagogue’s Education Team
RABBI ARIEL ABEL Richard Branson (pictured) – and now Jeff Bezos – recently flew to the edge of space, taking us all one step closer to the advent of commercial flights beyond earth’s orbit. What does the Torah say about space tourism? “The heavens are the almighty’s heavens, but the earth He gave to humankind.” This verse from Psalms seems to encourage us to keep out of outer space. We are encouraged by Isaiah to “lift up our eyes and see who created all these” heavenly bodies, and our literature is filled with reference to astronomy and even astrology. But actually getting up there? Is the psalmist saying: Stay away? The Gerrer Rebbe in the 1960s went to the extent of denying that man could ever get to the moon, owing to this verse; a position he reversed once the moon landing
was achieved and watched by audiences in the millions. Our ability to travel to space is now undeniable, but should it be harnessed for commercial use? In one of his visions, Ezekiel the prophet was lifted by his sidelocks and whisked through the skies. According to the prophet he night-travelled to Jerusalem, flying “between heaven and earth” making for a speedy journey. In another vision, he described extraterrestrial travel machines
running on hashmal – electricity. Ezekiel’s images then fictive to most is our reality nowadays. Just like Ezekiel, we can be whisked rapidly to the Biblical “four corners” of the world. If we can shorten travel time, and perhaps even reduce the amount of pollution expelled, we may find that Israel dubs its first heavenly transatlantic subspace vehicle “Ezekiel’s chariot”, or even Elijah’s! The prospects of uniting split families and scattered communities; bringing Israel and the diaspora closer together; and touring the exosphere to better observe the handiwork of creation all seem a lot closer to a Torah ideal than to a Torah objection of any kind. ◆ Rabbi Ariel Abel is based in Liverpool
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