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A Mission of Discovery

A Mission of Discovery

Learn about the Biblical connection between exploring space and spiritually reaching for the heavens.

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A Mission of Discovery
By Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort
An extraordinary event occurred this week that should make us all sit up and take notice. Indeed, if we employ the well-known Chassidic axiom of learning from everything we see and applying it in our service of the Almighty, a profound lesson may be gleaned from this event.
After a highly successful 14-day mission, the space shuttle Discovery safely returned to earth, touching down in California. This was a particularly noteworthy mission as it was the first flight of a shuttle since the catastrophic accident that claimed the lives of the seven astronauts on the Columbia (including the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon) some two and a half years ago. Many sat on edge during the duration of this mission, especially during the four extra vehicular excursions (space walks) embarked upon to inspect and possibly repair damage incurred during the violent lift-off, and pretty much everyone held their breath during reentry (which was when the Columbia tragedy took place). Thankfully, everything went pretty much as planned and the mission was deemed a success.
During the more than 5.5-million-mile journey, several interviews were conducted with the shuttle's crew, including a telephone conversation with President Bush. During each of these interviews the crew sounded more than upbeat about their mission; indeed they repeatedly emphasized how thrilled they were to be on this historic trip. This sentiment was in evidence despite the fact that it was unarguably a perilous mission of the highest order.
Think about it for a moment. Several intelligent, healthy, highly skilled individuals dedicate years and years of their lives. They undergo countless hours of the most intensive training imaginable. Then they strap themselves to a monstrous rocket that generates an explosive energy so great that it shoots a tremendous weight into the heavens at the same velocity as a bullet is shot from a gun.
But therein lies the key to understanding this whole scenario. Those astronauts, and the thousands of people involved in this mission, had a spectacular goal: they strove to reach the heavens. When viewed in this light perhaps the mission can no longer be considered a mere reckless adventure. After all, they sought to reach the heavens!
And so, too, each of us has a mission; a mission that takes dedication, training, intelligence, and yes, courage. Our mission is to reach for the heavens.
But notice how the mission would not have been deemed a success had they merely reached space and were not able to safely return to earth. All those aforementioned interviews notwithstanding, the crew sounded most pleased only after touching down back here. After years of training and the thrill of space travel, their highest level of excitement and fulfillment was only realized after they returned to terra firma.
The same applies to our own spiritual mission. We need to strap a rocket on our back so that we may free ourselves of earth's seemingly irresistible gravity. The fiery rocket blast is our unadulterated passion expressed in terms of love and awe of our Creator. It is our fervent desire for a "Discovery" of G‑dliness wherever it may be found. This passion propels us to reach the highest of heights. However, we must be aware that reaching those heights is but a means to an end. The mission is not successful unless we manage to bring some of the heavens back to earth.
Our desire for G‑dliness must be expressed in the realm of the physical universe. It is here, on planet Earth, that we then implement all of these newfound "discoveries," transforming our everyday lives and surroundings into an environment of holiness. We have then have realized our full potential in becoming G‑d's partner in bringing heaven down to earth. Mission accomplished!
Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort is director of Chabad at La Costa and a scholar on AskMoses.com. Rabbi Eilfort welcomes readers comments and questions and may be reached via e-mail at rabbiE@chabadatlacosta.com.
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