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A thought on Captain Kirk's view of the earth

10/15/2021 01:20:51 PM


Rabbi Bruce Alpert

Like many of us, I was taken by William Shatner's brief journey into space this week. I was never a big fan of Star Trek, but I have always found Shatner an endearing man – one who seems to exude an innate joyfulness and the admirable quality of not taking himself too seriously. But his reaction to going into space was, I think, in its own way, quite profound. He discounted the experience of weightlessness and focused instead on the thin line between life and death:

To see the blue color go “Whoop” by, and now you're staring into blackness.

That's the thing: This covering of blue, this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue that we have around us …

We think “Oh, that's blue sky,” and then suddenly, you shoot through it all as though you whip off a sheet off you when you're asleep and you're looking into blackness; into black ugliness.

And you look down: there's the blue down there, and the black up there and it's just … it's just …

There (looking back at the earth) is mother and earth and comfort …

And there (looking into the blackness of space) is … Is there death? I don't know. Is that death? Is that the way death is … Whoop and it's gone!

Ours is a society dominated by the cold logic of science. And that science reminds us that this universe of ours is unfathomably large. The light of the stars that hits our eyes tonight left their sources hundreds, even thousands of years ago. Amid such vastness, what significance can there be to one infinitesimally small planet in an unremarkable corner of an unremarkable galaxy? What significance can there be to a blade of grass, or a grasshopper, or a human being on that planet? To stare into the abyss of vast, empty space is to stare at death.

What I hear in Astronaut Shatner's words are a reminder that it isn't the blackness – no matter how vast it may be – that matters. Rather, what matters is the blue down here. In his stirring summary of the Torah's message, Moses reminds us that what matters most to us “is not in the heavens that you should say 'Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us … ?'” (Deuteronomy 30:12) What matters is right here on earth. What matters is life.

Why life matters – that it is a gift of a good and loving God – is the subject of theology. But in the end, knowing that our lives matter is what counts. That has always been Judaism's essential message to the world. How fitting then that this week, that message was once again delivered by an old Jewish man.


Fri, February 23 2024 14 Adar I 5784