More Than Just Moon-Rock
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
We recently celebrated my sons barmitzvah, we all enjoyed ourselves but it got me thinking - what exactly are we celebrating - before he was barmitzvah he was pretty much "free", not being obliged by law to keep the mitzvoth, now he has just been bound to 613 do's and don'ts that are going to control every day of his life. Is that really liberating? What are we celebrating?
With commercial space travel on the horizon, space travel has become quite a trendy subject. Yet, long before the thought of a layman travelling to space, the Jewish lessons to be learned from space travel were abundant:
When the American government first started investing heavily into space exploration there were many who scoffed at the idea of "spending billions of dollars to bring back a couple of rocks that I could have given you from my backyard". Most people now understand that space exploration is more than just the collection of rare artefacts and experiences. The astronauts don't just travel into space to enjoy themselves on the thrill of a lifetime. They represent the entire humanity. It is their research and reconnaissance that enables major technological advancements in the world, from trivial web browsing to international security and environmental changes.
After a careful selection, the most suitable astronaut is chosen, one who will be representative of all of mankind on this special mission. Following years of training, the astronaut is dressed in his space suit and blasted into outer space. The astronaut's every move is dictated by a command station on the ground. The instructions that he is constantly provided with are vital, not only for the astronauts work but for his very survival.
Let's imagine that floating thousands of miles above the earth, with the most stunning views ever seen by man, the astronaut starts to get tired of the constant instructions coming through the radio. He just wants to enjoy the untainted atmosphere in peace and quiet. So he switches off his radio. For a few minutes he is able to enjoy the splendid view in silence. But suddenly he feels himself being drawn into the orbit of a distant planet, unable to proceed with his mission. The truth be told, at first he kind of enjoys it - circling the planet at an astronomical speed like on a huge rollercoaster - but his joy soon turns to panic and fright when he realizes that if he doesn't get out of this orbit he will become like any other satellite on an endless and monotonous orbit.
He knows that in such situations he must get in touch with mission control back on earth so that they can get him out of this mess and back on course, so he picks up the radio and calls in. But to his horror there is nothing but deafening silence on the other end of the line. It seems that when he switched off the radio for some peace and quiet, he cut off all communication with earth. Could you imagine his feelings at that moment? Not only is he going to disappoint those who sent him and the entire mankind whom he is representing but it looks like his eternal fate is to just continue circling this planet. And all for just a moment of "peace and quiet"!
Now imagine that astronaut manages to fix the problem. He gets in touch with mission control and they start shooting out commands, instructing him how to get out of the mess and back on track. Would he now say "I wish they would stop bothering me with all these instructions" or would he be overjoyed that he will be able to fulfil his mission and return home a hero?
Every Jew is an astronaut. Our souls are carefully selected and sent out on a major mission, surfing a foreign atmosphere in a bodily spaceship. The soul receives its commands from its control station, the Torah. The instructions that the soul receives are not only for its enjoyment but they are for the soul's very survival. It is these instructions that will guide the soul on its landing and return trip. Part of the soul's mission is to bring back physical mitzvoth - tefillin, Shabbat candles, acts of kindness and many more. Here too one may ask "is it worth it to send a soul on such a huge mission just for leather straps?" Being mortals we are not able to fully comprehend the G-dly interest in these seemingly meaningless things. But one thing is certain - If the creator revealed Himself to us at Mt. Sinai, investing so much "energy" just to ask us for these simple "moon rocks", there must be something deeper here.
Here too, as time goes by and the soul gets swept up by its material surroundings, it's only natural for the soul to start resenting the constant instructions. He wants to enjoy life. So he slams down the "radio". For a few moments such freedom is pure bliss. But he soon realizes that without a connection with his "commander", he is in danger of being swept up by the body into a perpetual orbit - he lives to work and he works to live. The end becomes the means and the means becomes the end.
With this in mind, a Bar-Mitzvah boy understands that the day-in-day-out daily commandments are not a hindrance to a life of freedom, but they are the backbone of freedom and growth. No wonder the celebration?