Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

Beresheet and Tikun Olam

This coming Thursday will be a historic day. If all goes as planned, for the first time ever a spacecraft launched by Israel will land on the moon. No doubt we are all proud of “our” achievement (although most of us had nothing to do directly with the project, it never hurts to feel good …), and for good reason: Israel will become the fourth country – among 195 – to have a physical presence on the moon. The implications of such an achievement are many, on many levels. I would like to share some thoughts that come to mind.

One of the principles developed in Hasidism and Kabbalah is that everything that occurs on the earthly plane has its counterpart and origin on the spiritual plane. In fact, everything that happens on the earthly plane serves as an example to better understand what happens in the more abstract and intangible spiritual planes. 

When NASA launched Apollo 8 in 1968, the first time that a human being left Earth’s orbit, orbited the moon and safely returned to Earth, the Lubavitcher Rebbe shared several practical teachings. The central theme addressed was the importance of the crew’s discipline in every detail of their personal behavior and their exact adherence to the decisions of the ground-based Mission Control. If any of the astronauts would have thought to act on the basis of their personal criteria against the indications of Mission Control, the whole project would be doomed.

The same, explained the Rebbe, occurs with regard to the mission of the Jewish people. In order for the collective project to be successful, each member must abide by the rules to the letter, otherwise the whole mission may be in jeopardy.

* * *

Listening to one of the scientists explain how the lunar lander crossed over from Earth’s orbit to the lunar orbit, what came to mind was that this is a good example to describe the time in the history in which we find ourselves, namely the threshold between Galut (exile) and Geulah (Redemption) , and the process necessary to cross over.

Allow me to explain:

According to the Jewish mystical teachings, the history of humanity is set on a trajectory responding to a Divine plan. Our belief in G-d implies not only that the world has a creator but that the creator has a plan and is actively guiding us according to it.

The world was created in such a way that it contains two dimensions and aspects, the material and the spiritual. There is a tension between the two realities. By their very nature and design, each one pulls in a different direction and has a different agenda. The objective is not to destroy or deny the material, but to sublimate it and channel its forces in order to achieve the objective: to express the presence and will of the Creator. G-d is neither material nor spiritual; He created both realities and therefore can and should be expressed through both of them. One who separates between the two, as the famous adage of the “enlightenment” goes, “Be a Jew in your home and a citizen in the street”, errs in his understanding of the basic foundation and essence of Judaism. G-d is not merely a reality, even if the greatest; G-d is the only true reality. Now, when we say that G-d is the absolute truth, this does not deny the plurality and diversity of which the world is composed, but to the contrary: it encompasses everything and manifests itself through each and every aspect of said plurality. Nothing is beyond our outside of His realm.

This truth does not depend on whether or not we agree. It does not depend on popular opinion. The only thing that does depend on us is whether we choose to live in harmony or in dissonance with said reality.

History is a process, which, like the trajectory of the Beresheet spacecraft, is slow but sure. In order to reach a situation in which everyone recognizes a truth, it is necessary to go through a process of elimination, demonstrating how the alternatives are not. Throughout history, there were many nations and alternative ideas that emerged, dazzled, seduced and conquered the world and ended up disappearing. The list is long. The only one that remains intact after 3.331 years, is the Jewish people, purveyors of G-d’s word, received at Mt. Sinai.

The adherence to or denial of said reality is the essential difference between Galut (exile) and Geulah (redemption).

How so?

According to Webster, exile is defined as: “the state or a period of forced (or voluntary) absence from one’s country or home“. Chassidism, as it usually does, defines it more “essentially”: since the essence of exile is to be in a place alien to one’s own, it can also be applied to the situation in which one thinks and behaves not in accordance with his or her natural and essential condition. In psychological terms: when one lives in a cognitive dissonance, one is exiled (of oneself). When one lives according to the reality defined by the perceptions and priorities of his body, which is nothing more than a container, against those of his soul that is his or her essence, it is an exile – displacement – of the most extreme sort.

The ultimate goal of history is to have humanity live in a way where the body reflects and expresses the G-dly soul rather than deny and repress it. We are slowly getting there. When civilization achieves a critical mass in this regard, the world will be ready for Mashiach to lead and complete the process. When we free ourselves from our personal, internal exiles, Mashiach will be able to free us from the collective, external one.

Bringing humanity from one reality to another requires a very special training, more difficult than taking a satellite out of Earth’s orbit and moving it into the lunar orbit, but there is a similarity: we must know with great precision when, how and with how much force to push in order to achieve the desired goal.

From the very first moment in which the Lubavitcher Rebbe assumed the mantle of leadership in 1950, he announced and insisted on the fact that we are standing at the threshold of that long awaited  historical and critical point; we are about to progress from the gravitational pull of galut (exile) into the orbit of Geulah (Redemption). The difference between Golah (exile) and Geulah (Redemption) is merely one letter: Aleph. Aleph represents “Alufo shel olam”, the Master of the Universe. Exile and Redemption is a result of perception, perceiving reality as it is (Divine creation with a purpose) or merely as it seems to be (Natural, cosmic accident with no purpose). Humanity has matured enough to be able to take that step at any moment, the Rebbe insisted.

There are few who know how to get a spaceship to the moon, and fewer yet who know how to get the world to Geulah. The Rebbe had that ability and put into place all the systems necessary to achieve it. It is now up to us to put them into practice and actually accomplish the goal.

Does it sound like a fantasy? Until not too long ago, the idea that Israel would be landing on the moon also seemed like a fantasy …

This year, at the Passover Seder we will celebrate the blast-off of the Jewish “mission” 3,331 years ago. Who knows? Perhaps we will also be able to celebrate having arrived at our destination.

BeShanah Hazot Biyerushalaim!

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.