In July, we will be celebrating 50 years since humans landed on the moon. On the one hand, it is amazing that we live to be in such close proximity to this outstanding event. On the other hand, why has it taken us so long to go back?
I am reminded of the Midrash, the Jewish legend, that understands that God creates the human being with two inclinations: the good inclination and the evil inclination. The Midrash ultimately explains that we need both. Why do we also need the evil inclination? Because it is the evil inclination that motivates us to make babies, build houses and perhaps, I would suggest, engage in space travel.
We were on a race to get to the moon during the Cold War. While no one would argue war is a good thing, the competition pushed us to advance faster and better and take a leap beyond the Blue Planet.
When we look at history in general, we see that many technological advances have been made in dire times. When everything is going well, humans are more apt to accept the status quo.
Time and time again in the Torah, the Israelites complain that they would prefer to go back to Egypt. The unknown is frightening, and even slavery seemed a better way. And the Israelites seem all too quick to forget God’s signs and miracles. Complacency is its own kind of evil.
In this week’s parasha, Shlach Lecha, Moses sends a contingent of men to spy out the Land of Israel and bring back a report of what they find. Though the report begins positively, stating that the Land is flowing with milk and honey, it turns sour, faithlessly declaring that giants inhabit the Land and the Israelites are not capable of overcoming them.
Though the “spies” lived through their first expedition and even brought back goodies to show and share with the congregation, their fear prevented them from believing they could go back.
Our last manned lunar landing was in 1972. Certainly, as a world, and particularly as the United States, we have continued to collect data and send unmanned missions outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Nonetheless, the hopes and dreams of further government-funded human space exploration are at a halt.
I don’t think any of the Apollo missions delivered a “bad report,” but like the Israelites, those in charge of deeming where dollars get spent seem to want to go back to Egypt. I pray that we can balance the evil inclination, which at times drives innovation and at others complacency, with the good inclination so that our true mission continues to be witnessing God’s world as the interconnectedness and oneness of all.
May we all strive to shoot for the moon and may the balance between our two natures drive us to expand toward the heavens.
Rabbi Elyssa Joy Austerklein is rabbi at Beth El Congregation in Akron.