(February 25, 2019 / JNS)
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
So spoke U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1962 about the American plan to send a man to the moon and back, which would consume so much funding, technological know-how and manpower, without certain success in beating the Soviets in the race.
We Jews have a phrase for such thinking: Leshem shamayim (“in heaven’s name”).
And now, thanks to the SpaceIL team, we are also literally there, a name in the heavens.
When the spacecraft “Beresheet” lands on the moon a couple of months hence, Israel will have become the fourth country in the world to have achieved such a feat: a space-faring power.
“Beresheet” will advance humanity’s understanding of magnetic fields. An entire generation of Israeli scientists will be enriched by SpaceIL’s achievements, and future generations of Israeli scientists will be inspired to follow their example.
Witnessing Thursday night’s launch in Florida, I was moved to tears. It was a glorious spectacle of light banishing darkness. The rising rocket looked a like a comet strike in reverse, bringing human advancement rather than earthly destruction. I confess that I briefly regretted not having chosen astrophysics as my career. That thought was swiftly eclipsed, however, by the knowledge that my grandchildren could well do so in my stead. The dream is more real than ever.
This is all great. It is also all secondary. “Beresheet” was launched primarily leshem shamayim—as a demonstration to Israelis and the world that we are a nation that is always reaching for the stars and beyond the horizon, that works for the greater good and for the betterment of a world that often disappoints us.
In the dawn of Jewish history, God promised our forefather Abraham that his offspring would be like the stars in the sky. Ever since, Jews, an eternal people who is forever evolving, have gazed up into the night sky—at the changing moon, the rotating constellations—for inspiration.
At tragic times, space has also been a source of comfort: Incarcerated in Theresienstadt Ghetto, 14-year-old Petr Ginz painted “Moon Landscape,” apparently imagining the lunar surface as a safe remove from an implacably cruel world. Ginz would be murdered in Auschwitz but his art lived on and was taken into space in 2003 by our first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, a war hero who symbolized the triumph of Zionist revival.
The team that met this latest challenge and managed to propel the “startup nation” into space also served Zionism with a priceless achievement for Israel and the Jewish people.
When “Beresheet” reaches the lunar surface, it will park a digital library of 3,000 years of Jewish wisdom, housed in a spacecraft that has the Israeli flag and the immortal Hebrew motto Am Yisrael Chai (“The Nation of Israel Lives”) emblazoned on its side. Together, these three symbols will shine forever upon the whole world.
This is an event to cherish, a source of pride.
We are not just “on the map” of the world: We are on the map of the universe.
Godspeed, SpaceIL. We will all watch “Beresheet” in heaven’s name and marvel.
Dr. Miriam and Mr. Sheldon Adelson are among the main philanthropists behind the project.
Dr. Miriam Adelson, M.D., is a specialist in chemical dependency and drug addiction. She is the publisher of “Israel Hayom” and, with her husband, Sheldon Adelson, the owner of “Israel Hayom” and the “Las Vegas Review-Journal” newspapers, as well as a financial supporter of JNS.