“Mars needs Rabbis” Shavuot 5777

I read a fascinating article last week, written by Maggie Koerth-Baker, called “Mars Needs More Lawyers”[1].  The gist of the article is that while scientists and engineers are running full speed ahead in their attempts to colonize Mars – specifically Elon Musk and his wildly successful SpaceX company – jurists are lagging far behind in figuring out how Martian colonists will live according to the letter of the law. In the words of Koerth-Baker, “We may slip the surly bonds of Earth, but we will not escape the knots tied by Earth law and politics.” Unfortunately, nobody is currently certain how these “knots” are meant to be tied.

The first thing that we must do in this situation is to look for legal analogies. It can be argued that Martian Law could be analogous to the law applicable to ships sailing in international waters. According to International Maritime Law, ships must sail under the flag of some country and they are governed by the laws and regulations of that same country. The problem is that governments are becoming less and less interested in shelling out large sums of money for space travel. In order to share costs, the US has been collaborating with Russia in space exploration ever since a Soviet Soyuz docked with American Apollo spacecraft in 1975. To further muddy the waters, things cost significantly less when they are done in the private sector. To illustrate, SpaceX is sending satellites into space for slightly more than 10 percent of what it costs NASA. As a result, most governments would prefer that the private sector be the ones to worry about colonizing Mars. This kind of thinking leads to a legal quandary: If SpaceX goes and colonizes Mars, who will govern the colony: Elon Musk or Donald Trump? Koerth-Baker asks a more Talmudic question: What happens when you have an American, two Indians, a Russian and a Nigerian living in a pod [on Mars] that’s owned by a private corporation under the authorization of Liberia? By whose laws are they all governed? What happens if the rules set by one country conflict with another’s? Who benefits from the mineral rights? What if India decides it’s OK for its citizens on Mars to secede and form their own Martian government before Liberia decides that’s OK? Koerth-Baker suggests that questions like these are so far-reaching that they will not be answered by lawyers, but, rather, by politicians.

I know what the reader is thinking: “I know where he’s going to take this. It’s Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. He’s going to discuss how we are meant to keep the Torah in outer space, where there is no day and no night!” Nope[2]. What I found most pertinent in the article was a quote at the end from Joanne Gabrynowicz, a retired professor of space law at the University of Mississippi. Gabrynowicz said that “Space is sexy. It’s glitzy. It’s about rocketry and satellites and all sorts of wonderful things. But the truth is, we must understand that leaving Earth will not solve human problems alone. Whatever our issues on Earth are, they’re going with us, and we still have to address them.” Our issues on earth are not bound by the forces of gravity. Wherever humans go, so will our dreams, our desires, our strengths, and our foibles. Similarly, it is clear that the Torah should not be bound by planet earth – it is truly universal. Not only the mitzvot, but the ideas that the Torah teaches, are pertinent everywhere in the space-time continuum.

This made me ask a question: Why, when Hashem gave the Torah at Sinai, did He begin by saying [Shemot 20:2] “I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of Egypt” instead of saying “I am Hashem, your G-d, Who created the universe”? While it is clear that the people that stood at Sinai, people who were released from bondage only seven weeks earlier, could relate far more easily to a G-d Who freed them from their taskmasters than to a G-d Who created the sun, the moon, and the stars, I personally can relate to the later far more easily than to the former, and so, probably, can most of the people alive today. Why does Hashem bind the Torah to a one-time event that occurred more than three thousand years ago?

This question is addressed by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi (Riha”l) in the first chapter of the Book of Kuzari. Riha”l states that he does not “believe” in the existence Hashem, because existence can never be proven. Rather, he knows that Hashem exists because his ancestors – six hundred thousand of them – witnessed the exodus from Egypt. Each generation passed this evidence to the next generation. It is unfeasible, says Riha”l, that six hundred thousand people were lying. It is this “national memory” that fuels the motor of our knowledge of Hashem’s existence and choice of Am Yisrael. Riha”l writes [1:25] “In the same strain Moshe spoke to Pharaoh, when he told him: ‘The G-d of the Hebrews sent me to you, the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. For Avraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the Divine Spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. Moshe did not say: ‘The G-d of heaven and earth,’ nor ‘my Creator and yours sent me.’ In the same way G-d began His speech to the assembled people of Israel: ‘I am the G-d whom you worship, who has led you out of the land of Egypt,’ but He did not say: ‘I am the Creator of the world and your Creator.’”

While this is probably the most well-known answer, the Rambam had great difficulty with it. Writing in the Guide for the Perplexed [2:33], the Rambam asserts that the revelation at Sinai was a personal revelation experienced only by Moshe: “It is clear to me that what Moshe experienced at the revelation on Mount Sinai was different from that which was experienced by all the other Israelites, for Moshe alone was addressed by G-d, and for this reason the second person singular is used in the Ten Commandments”. While Am Yisrael knew something was going on, they had no idea precisely what they were experiencing. For all they knew, it could have been a UFO.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe[3] offers an answer that goes to the core of matter. First the Rebbe strengthens the question even further: the Rambam [Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 1:1,6] writes “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the truth of His being… The knowledge of this concept is a positive commandment, as [implied by Shemot 20:2]: ‘I am Hashem, your G-d….’” If, according to the Rambam, the mitzvah to recognize Hashem as the source of all existence is the first of the Ten Commandments, why, then, doesn’t the commandment read “I am Hashem, your G-d, Who created the universe”? The Rebbe answers by first noting that the Ten Commandments are really not earth-shattering mitzvot. Most societies do not sanction murder, theft, and adultery. These mitzvot are logical and necessary for a functioning society. In fact, most of the Ten Commandments are part of the seven mitzvot that were given to the Children of Noach. What’s the big deal here? The Rebbe quotes Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi [Likutei Torah Bemidbar 15:3] who asserts that “The reason that the Torah was given to man was to serve as a conduit through which the Infinite Divine Light could be revealed in our corporeal universe.” The Rebbe explains that the Torah is meant to infuse our entire world – especially the “simple and obvious things” like the prohibition of murder and theft – with godliness. The Torah was given to man in order to take Hashem from the heavens and to place him squarely in our human lives. And so the revelation at Sinai begins with a statement: “I am Hashem, a G-d Who created the stars and the planets in an infinite universe. But I am also Hashem, a G-d Who takes an active interest in the smallest actions of human beings. I do not stand over your world, I stand within your world. I am a G-d Who wants be approached by mortal man, Who wants man to forge a relationship with Him.” This is the Torah, the rest is commentary.

Chag Sameach,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5777

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka and Yechiel ben Shprintza.

[1] The article can be found on, a highly recommended web site that offers a psycho-mathematical viewpoint on politics, sports, and other timely topics. It’s like “Freakonomics” on steroids.

[2] Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, who was killed in the Colombia space shuttle disaster, consulted with Rabbi Tzvi Konikov, director of Chabad of the Space & Treasure Coasts in Florida, on how to keep Shabbat in space.

[3] Found in Sha’arei HaMoadim on Shavuot [44].

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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