“In the beginning, when God created the heaven and the earth… “
Every good story starts, in the beginning.
The Torah starts, in the beginning: “Beresheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz.” It tells us of the earth and the stars. The first book of the Torah is called Beresheet (Genesis) and so is the first Israeli spacecraft that will begin its journey to the moon this Friday.
Every year, the Jewish people read the Torah, from the beginning to the end – and immediately start again. Unchanging yet always different, the greatest story ever written, provides new insight and value to all who are willing to pay attention.
The Torah portion this week speaks of Moses appealing to God to forgive the Nation of Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf:
And Moses hurried and knelt to the ground and bowed, and he said, “If I have found favor in Your eyes, my Lord, may my Lord go among us, because it is a stiff-necked people, and forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.” (Ex. 34:8–9)
Forgive us BECAUSE we are a stiff-necked people?!
Ours is perhaps the most fascinating and the least understood of all stories. How do you tell a story that spans from the beginning of creation and is now launching to the moon?
How do you explain a stiff-necked people, hated and unaccepted wherever we go, abused, oppressed and yet successful beyond the wildest dreams of the biggest dreamers?
Our story taught the nations of the world that there is one God instead of many.
Our story defined morality and justice for ourselves and everyone else (today the world is embattled between those who live by these ideas and those who choose other value systems).
Our slavery and exodus taught the world the value of freedom and became the symbol for self-determination, through the salvation and grace of God. This is the story that inspired the creation of the United States of America, that gave hope to the slaves of early America and later inspired the civil rights movement.
Ours is the story of defiance and eternal stubbornness. We are the people who did not give up, surrender or disappear. We are the people who did not relinquish hope, even in the darkest times of humanity – pogroms, families burned alive, thriving communities destroyed, chased out of (almost) every country, always the “other”, Inquisition, more pogroms, lynches and Holocaust.
How is it possible to retain hope? To keep dreaming?
Because we are a stiff-necked people. Our worst quality has also been our saving grace.
And we were not wrong. Our stubbornness upheld our people through 2000 years of exile and it brought us home again. We are the “davka nation.” Is it any wonder that this very Israeli word doesn’t exist in English? Davka is the defiance of doing things despite others, succeeding just to prove others wrong. Living because others want us to die.
Davka is why terrorism makes us stronger. Why attempts to disconnect us from our land makes us love it more.
Davka is why the hate of nations leads us to make the world a better place and reach for the stars.
From the place where we lost Ilan Ramon, Beresheet will be launched and begin its journey to the moon.
Davka, because we lost Ilan, the first Israeli astronaut, the success of the first Israeli moonshot will be even more meaningful. Before there was Beresheet, there was Ilan.
Tears streamed down my face when I watched the Space Shuttle Columbia break up into pieces on live tv. My heart understood what I was seeing before my brain did.
I knew that before the Columbia, there was the Challenger – my teacher had rolled a tv into the classroom so we could watch the launch. We were told that the launch was doubly exciting because among the crew was the first Jewish astronaut, a woman and a symbol of excellence. I don’t remember what happened after the shuttle exploded on lift off. All I remember is the horror of those images, were forever seared into my soul.
Before there was Ilan, came Judith.
The Challenger exploded on lift-off. The Columbia broke into pieces returning from space, falling over Palestine, Texas.
Before there was Palestine, there was Zion – the place, the story that inspired the founders of Palestine, Texas.
We always come back to the beginning. “In the beginning, when God created the heaven and the earth… ”
Beresheet, created by the nation assigned the task of being a light to all other nations on earth is literally, traveling to the heavens.
We are a stiff-necked people. Our greatest fault, also our saving grace and an example to the nations of the world that anything is possible. Not even the sky can limit us.
You can watch the launch live, here: