Friday, November 27, 2009

Space race

“Charlie Buttons” is an eccentric who’s been part of the landscape of “770” for as long as anyone can remember. He wanders in wearing denim dungarees and a cap that sports various badges and buttons, and he always has a strange slogan to share. He targeted last week’s message at the thousands of Shluchim who had converged on Crown Heights for the annual Shluchim Conference. “I’m going to be a Shluchim (sic) on the Moon,” he happily announced up and down the Shul.

Many feel that Charlie already lives in Outer Space, but he’s an unlikely candidate for running the first lunar Chabad House. Make no mistake- there will be one. As soon as the first Jews settle on the Moon, you can bet Chabad will be there.

Space travel has historically been limiting- it costs a fortune and you have to be in prime health to make the journey. But, as the Shuttle fleet is set to retire, NASA is now looking to develop a cheaper way to get people into space. One radical concept that they’re seriously considering is the Space Elevator- a system that anchors a satellite to Earth’s equator, allowing us to move payloads up and down the 40 000km of cable. Clearly, there are many obstacles to this project, but they’re pursuing it seriously.

NASA’s inspiration for the Space Elevator may have come from this week’s Torah portion. In it we read how Yaakov dreams of a ladder linking Heaven and Earth on which angels climb and descend.

Yaakov’s dream-ladder is still in place- even if you can’t see it. It links us to G-d, allowing us to shoot our bundles of wishes up to Him and He to deliver blessings to us. Kabbalah calls it the ladder of prayer. When you start your prayer journey, you’re rooted on terra firma, but as you delve into its meditative embrace, you can break life’s gravitational pull and soar heavenward.

It may still take NASA years to hook us up with a Space Elevator system, but the cable that connects us on High is in working order, can carry any load and operates faster than NASA will ever be able to. With that technology at our disposal, we really should use it more often.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

My Zaida was a rabbi

A very religious Jew traveling through Europe stopped overnight at a B&B. He noticed a mezuzah on the door and wondered if he could rely on the kosher standard of the institution. He approached the bare-headed owner, who was manning the front desk and asked if he served kosher food.

“Look there,” the proprietor announced, indicating an aging photo of a man with a tangled white beard, “That was my father! Surely, you can rely on the kashrut of my food!”

The guest smiled slightly and replied: “If this was your father’s establishment and he had a photo of you hanging on the wall, I’d feel more comfortable eating here.”

Jews love to tell you about their pedigree, how frum their father or grandfather was or how their grandmother chaired the ladies’ guild back in the “old country”. “Oh, you’re a Hurwitz, are you related to the famous Kabbalist Rabbi Horowitz?” (When I introduce myself, I usually: “Is that a Jewish surname? I’ve never heard of it before...”)

Rabbi Dovber, the successor to the Ba’al Shem Tov, watched his house burn down when he was a young boy. His mother was devastated and he tried to console her, arguing that valuables are replaceable. But, she explained that her family tree, tracing their pedigree to King David had gone up in flames and could never be recovered. Little Dovber grinned and assured her that he would make sure to start a new famous family tree.

It’s each man for himself in Judaism. You can’t ride on the achievements of your parents, nor can you blame your failings on theirs.

Avraham’s father was an idolator, yet he became the father of monotheism. Rivkah’s family were crooks, yet she became one of the most pious people ever. Even Moshiach’s lineage is embarrassing. His original ancestors include Moab, a child born from the incest of Lot and his daughter.

Don’t tell us who you parents were; show us who you are.