Friday, October 26, 2007

Vayera: As Below, So Too Above

"Vadonai himtir al sedom ve'al amora gofrit va'esh me'et adonai min hashamayim."
(God rained brimstone and fire from the sky upon Sedom and Amora -- Bereshit 19:24)

"Vatabet ishto me'acharav, vatehi netsiv melach."
([Lot]'s wife looked behind [as she fled], and behold [the city] was a pile of salt -- Bereshit 19:26, according to Ralbag/Gersonides)

Where did the brimstone with which God scoured the streets of Sedom and Amora come from?
From the charcoal that the people of the Cities used to mark everything on earth as someone's possession, never to be shared or gifted.

Where did the fire with which God cauterized the soil under the houses of Sedom and Amora come from?
From the hearths and cookfires that the people of the Cities locked within their homes and courtyards, barred to access by cold and shivering strangers.

Where did the salt with which God pulverized and buried the remains of Sedom and Amora come from, forming the seabed of the Yam Hamelach/Salty Sea?
From the mines and the resource fields where the people of the Cities harvested basic necessities, priced so only the wealthy could obtain them.

That which is released from heaven exists in parallel with that which is released from earth, measure for measure, as we read in the story of Noach:
"Nivke'u kol ma'ayanot tehom rabah va'arubot hashamayim niftachu. Vayehi hageshem al ha'arets arba'im yom ve'arba'im laila."
(All the fountains of the deep broke open, and the curtains of the sky parted. It rained upon the earth for forty days and nights -- Bereshit 7:11-12)

It is an upwelling of sin that brings on the flood of destruction. There is a cycle in the world, as the Creator relates to us as we relate to others. The trees transpirate and the clouds gather, the good and evil that we do returns to us. All has consequences, though we are not yet wise enough to connect all the dots..

"Ki ka'asher yered hageshem vehasheleg min hashamayim, veshama lo yashuv, ki im hirva et ha'arets veholida vehitsmicha venatan zera lazorea velechem laochel: ken yihyeh devari asher yetsei mipi lo yashuv elai rekam ki im asah et asher chafatsti vehitsliach asher shelachtiv"

(Just as the rains and the snows fall from the sky and do not return without saturating the earth that it may sprout and blossom, giving seeds to the sower and bread to the diner: so will these words exiting my mouth not return to me empty, but they will complete their mission and accomplish my will -- Yeshayah 55:10-11)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

LOL: Communication and Laughter

She was in the tent when she heard one of the three guests outside say her name. It was odd to hear her new name, Sarah, after 90 years of being Sarai. She wasn’t even sure how he knew her name; not only was he a stranger, but it had only been her name for a couple of days, when the man she had always known as Avram had come home with the news that his name was now Avraham, and her name was now Sarah. He explained that this was part of G-d’s brit – covenant with them, and that all the men of the household needed to be circumcised.

Some women might have been shocked by such behavior, but Sarah was used to it by now. Avraham was spontaneous and enthusiastic, and she loved that about him. Everyone they knew could be on one side of a river, or a theological question, and Avraham would be across it, doing what he believed in, no matter what other people said. She supported him through it all. Like today, when he spotted three travelers and rushed over to her with instructions to start baking immediately.

Avraham and the guests were just outside the tent, eating the cakes she had baked. She was in the tent; not part of the conversation, but the subject of it. “Sarah your wife will have a child,” said the man with his back to the tent. Even Sarah, who was not easily shaken, was surprised. This stranger was speaking of her deepest desire as if it was possible, but Sarah had given up hope thirteen years ago.

וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר: אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן.
And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: 'After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?' (Genesis 18:12)

She could only respond to the absurdity of it with sarcasm. It was a laugh of disbelief that didn’t even escape her lips. It stayed within her, expressed only as an ironic smile.

She thought no one noticed her, but Avraham saw her face through the opening of the tent. He also heard G-d’s voice speaking to him.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָהָם: לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד--וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי.
And the LORD said unto Abraham: 'Why did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I really bear a child, when I am old? (ibid. 13)

“I told you Sarah would have a child when I changed your names, and you also laughed with disbelief, remember:

וַיִּפֹּל אַבְרָהָם עַל-פָּנָיו, וַיִּצְחָק; וַיֹּאמֶר בְּלִבּוֹ, הַלְּבֶן מֵאָה-שָׁנָה יִוָּלֵד, וְאִם-שָׂרָה, הֲבַת-תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה תֵּלֵד.
Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart: 'Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?' (Genesis 17:17)

“You were surprised by the news. But Sarah should not be surprised. Why didn’t you share the news with her when I told you?”

“Ribono shel olam – Master of the universe” said Avraham, “She would have laughed at me.”

Sarah objected: “I didn’t laugh out loud!”

G-d responded: “You did laugh, but you stifled it within you.”

“I didn’t want them to hear me,” Sarah said, “because I wasn’t supposed to be listening! My response would have interrupted their conversation.”

Hashem responds: “Al Menat kein- Therefore you should have laughed out loud.”

* * * * * * *

It is written:
…הָיִינוּ, כְּחֹלְמִים. אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה …
…We were like dreamers. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing… (Psalms 126:1-2)

This refers to Sarah, who heard the unbelievable, dreamlike news that she would have a son. Then when Yitzchak was born, her stifled laugh of disbelief burst forth from her mouth, changed into joyous laughter and song.

וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָה--צְחֹק, עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִים: כָּל-הַשֹּׁמֵעַ, יִצְחַק-לִי.
And Sarah said: 'God has made laughter for me; every one that hears will laugh on account of me.' (Genesis 21: 6)

“Laughter should not be hidden. I want communicate my happiness, so others will laugh with me.”

It is also written:
וַתִּשְׂחַק לְיוֹם אַחֲרוֹן פִּיהָ, פָּתְחָה בְחָכְמָה;וְתוֹרַת חֶסֶד, עַל-לְשׁוֹנָהּ.
…and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom; and the law of kindness is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31: 25-26)

This refers to what G-d said to Avraham, when Sarah suggested that he send Hagar and Yishmael away. “Remember what happened when Sarah hid her laugh behind the tent. Her laughter is followed by wisdom.

כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלֶיךָ שָׂרָה, שְׁמַע בְּקֹלָהּ: כִּי בְיִצְחָק, יִקָּרֵא לְךָ זָרַע.
…all that Sarah says to you, listen to her voice. Because through Isaac will your seed be called. (Genesis 21:12)

“For the sake of the child you have together, and all your future descendants, you need to listen to each other!”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Halakhic Moment in Sefer Ha-Bloggadah - A Long Entry for Lech Lecha through Vayera (with some Bereshit and Noach, too) by Jonah Steinberg

“It Came to Pass When God Caused me to Wander...”

Renewed Aggadic Steps toward a Personal Theology of Progressive Halakha

"Israel is a chosen nation, God’s chosen nation, but the reason for its chosen-ness remains obscure. It does not succeed in following traditional norms of male heroism, nor does it become an exemplary nation with high moral and religious standards."

Ilana Pardes, “Imagining the Birth of Israel: National Metaphors in the Bible”

"A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path."

Tao Te Ching, translated by Thomas Cleary

A revealing moment takes place when Abraham our father accounts for himself before Avimelekh, king of Gerar. Abraham, let us recall, has instructed his wife to pretend that she is his sister, whereupon Avimelekh has claimed Sarah for himself, very nearly bringing about his own demise, as God reveals to Avimelekh in a scolding dream. Now, apprised of Sarah’s actual identity, Avimelekh, in indignation, understandably, demands of Abraham, What on earth were you thinking when you acted as you did? (Gen. 20:9-10)

Abraham’s fumbling for an answer opens a sudden window into our progenitor’s inner journey, and his soul. At first he seems to hem and haw: Well, she is my sister, in a sense, actually, if you look at the genealogy, in a certain way. (Come on, for shame, we want to say. You know what Avimelekh means. Stop dissembling and answer like a responsible human being for what you did.) And anyhow, Abraham continues, this all happened “when God caused me to wander from my father’s house...”

"....then I said to her, This shall be your loving-kindness (your chesed), which you shall do with me, in every place we go, say of me, He is my brother."

It happened “when God caused me to wander.” The strange, transitive verb, seeming to imply Abraham’s passivity, hit’u, can also be read as ‘caused me to err,’ ‘made me be to’eh’ – ‘wandering,’ and perhaps even ‘wrong’ (the tav and tet forms of the root are cognate and closely related in meaning) – in which case Abraham seems to be attempting an ultimate passing of the buck, and of the blame. It’s not my fault, so Abraham would have Avimelekh believe – God cast me on this un-trodden way, God called me out on this path that no person has walked before. Don’t blame me, I’m doing the best I can, considering. After all, God caused me to stake my life upon this commanded journey – which, by the way, from the religious perspective of everyone I meet, is errant – so I erred.

Talk about an error! “This shall be your chesed,” your godly attribute of caring, to be misguiding and dishonest? (It is chesed perhaps only in the strange sense of Leviticus 20:17, where the word connotes egregious impropriety, but that is hardly a redeeming parallel.) Scripture furnishes Abraham with no excuse, or none better than he finds for himself. God caused him to wander, and he erred.

How can we say that Abraham was made to wander, and all the more to err? Is this not Abraham to whom God gave clear direction? Did God not say to Abraham, definitively, ‘Lekh lekha,’ get up and go, and go exactly as I point you? How can Abraham call his journey ‘wandering,’ and how can he suggest that the God-commanded path might lead to erring? For that matter, and somewhat on the other hand, would Abraham be all that misguided if he did disavow responsibility for his own course, having chosen to submit to the divine imperative?

At first glace, the Aramaic interpretive translation, the targum of Abraham’s account, seems just as evasive and dissembling as the patriarch himself does in his excuses before Avimelekh. Targum Onkelos transforms Abraham’s words into: “And it came to pass when God caused the nations of the world to err, that God drew me close to his service.” This reworking of the verse reads, at first blush, as a pious retrenchment into national cliché. It seems, as well, to be a religious effort to exclude categorically any reading in which God might have caused our forefather to wander ethically and to err – ‘Goyim make mistakes, I don’t. I serve God,’ the targum wants our father Abraham to say.

What does it mean that Abraham was drawn close to God’s service? With Abraham our father, the relationship of humanity and God-as-lawgiver seems to arrive at a novel paradigm. It is a pathway seemingly born of out of a process of divine and human cosmic trial and error, which plays out through the first chapters of Genesis.

In the beginning, in the garden, there was only one law, one clear commandment, one tree, clearly indicated, from which alone not to eat, one single misstep, total and calamitous, the only available alternative. Torah as Law, then, was a yes-or-no proposition. We were in or we were out. Humankind naturally tending to be rebellious, or impudent, or curious, or bored, the single Law was broken, and we were banished from the simplicity of Eden – end of lawgiving experiment number one: Human beings are not to be unthinking yes-people. We will have discernment.

Between the expulsion from the garden and the Flood, there comes a time of utter lawlessness. God gives no Law, and a period of nightmarish anarchy ensues. With possibly a scant few notable exceptions – Enoch and his grandson Noah, who managed to ‘walk with God’ (and perhaps some people in the time of Enosh who started to ‘call out in the name of the Lord’) – the world fills up with unredeemable wickedness. So the whole establishment, minus Noah and family, is condemned – end of lawgiving experiment number two: Our world cannot endure without a foundation of instruction – in the most literal sense, a Torah. There must be a Law.

So the rainbow-covenant with Noah comes amid a small flurry of lawgiving, a few basic principals, the so-called ‘seven noahide precepts’ (Genesis, chapter 9). A few clear laws – and total unanimity. The whole world is of one accord, “one speech,” ‘devarim achadim,’ one single-minded purpose. Call it a time of towering, monolithic, self-affirming certainty. It is also a time of the ultimate in human pretension, arrogance, and overreaching. So sure in itself is humanity, with its God-given fundamentals, and no room to admit subjective understanding, that nobody sees an impediment to claiming the very heavens. This, apparently, is also not what God intends, and the unison is shattered – end of lawgiving experiment number three: There will be disparity of articulation. There must be varied interpretation.

How, then, will a godly path be established, as the divine calls out to the father of our people? Lekh lekha, God commands, make your way. ‘Go unto yourself,’ our tradition has long interpreted, and, we might add, in newer idiom, ‘come into your own.’ Or, as God also says to Abraham (in Genesis 17:1), ‘Walk before me and become blameless.’ Hithalekh – a reflexive verb, ‘walk yourself about’, make your own going when you go as a standard-bearer before me. You must chart a way toward righteousness, of yourself, and be... Heyeh, ‘be,’ but eternally in the future tense – which is to say, you must do the work of bringing your own self into the fullness of its being, ever striving toward a distant blamelessness, ahead.

What, by contrast, was the misdeed of Haran, Abraham’s brother, who died, as the midrashic narrative has it, in the same fiery furnace that Abraham survived? Haran waited to see who would be vindicated, Abraham or the fire-worshiping Nimrod. Abraham survived the test, proving the rightness of his choice to follow God. Haran, impressed by the miracle, immediately sided with Abraham, and so was cast into the same furnace after him, and Haran died, his innards scorched, according to the story – but why? What was wrong with wanting to follow the path of a great man? Not everyone can be an Abraham himself. Or is that so?

Haran’s fault seems to be that he seeks the answer and the truth entirely outside himself and in the ways of others, illustrious as those others may be. Haran does not look inward, Haran does not engage in the way commanded to our line with lekh lekha. Haran’s religious life, in the moment of decision, is not a true expression of his own inner self, nor even an effort in that direction. Haran dies of inauthenticity – not from a lack of adherence to external norms and signposts of correctness and piety, but from a failure to discover and articulate himself in his own choices.

Haran’s innards are burnt up in the furnace. He steps out of the kiln and falls dead before his father, Terah. Apparently his outer form survives. What is the midrash teaching us? It is teaching us that Haran has made himself into the mere shell of a man. What remains of him is only the outward semblance of a human being. He may make the motions of a man pursuing a path, but he is not a person truly seeking a way in the company of his own heart. The man who makes himself a gutless outward show of loyalty and righteous decision is immolated on the inside.

Is inward immolation all that bad? Later masters of our way, inward-seeking to be sure – Elazar Azikri, for instance, author of the hymn Yedid Nefesh, and also that greatest of modern Jewish mystics, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook – say, ‘In my heart I shall erect a temple for God’s splendid glory, and in that temple I shall place an altar fashioned for God’s radiance, and for eternal flame I shall take the fire of the akedah, of Abraham’s ultimate sacrifice, and for an offering I shall offer up my unique soul to God.’ I shall sacrifice my soul. I shall give my self entirely in a sacrificial response to the commanding voice of God. Is that not the self-justifying cry of everyone whose religious path is an obedience that purports devoutly to exclude the selfish cries of the subjective heart?

Then I ask: Why was your particular soul created if only for you to slit its throat on the altar that is law set in stone? What was Abraham’s true sacrifice? His own discerning heart? His son? I say that Abraham is our father because what he gave God, entirely and without reservation, and even to a fault, was his own soul – yes, indeed – but not in self-effacement. Abraham gave his erring, wandering, often wise and sometimes stupid soul, truly and entirely, to listening for the divine voice, wherever he could find it. Abraham gave himself – authentically, distinctively, unmistakably, Abraham. He gave his life entirely to responding, in action, to the utmost limits of his human ability to make out what God wanted. It was a path of the highest stakes, no doubt about it. There were any number of near-complete catastrophes, and errors, not to mention wanderings. (If you must justify every patriarch’s treatment of his wife, for instance, we have little to talk about.) Yet, buffeted and befuddled as Abraham may sometimes have been, he soldiered on, trying with all his heart to the very end – and so must we.

Halakha, as we have come to call our centuries-long and multi-tracked endeavor of way-making, should be a matter of trying to walk that Abrahamic walk. Here I do not speak of halakha in the sense of some fixed, authoritative record of what our forbears have decided, or failed to decide – nobody should walk step-for-step in Abraham’s footprints, or in anyone else’s. I mean halakha as the creative project of seeking right ways and of working to practice them – halakha the process, not halakha the reified code. Especially with its pretensions to the definite article, “The Halakha,” a stone-faced and very nearly idol-like construction, and a dubious one to boot, has been the blunt point of so many arguments, and has hurt so many, that it may be hard even to hear what I mean by halakha the searching way. I mean the distinctive and dynamic course of each way-seeking and way-making Jewish soul, Jewish family, Jewish community.

What is your halakha? Do you know that you have one – that you inscribe it in every moment of your life? What will it be? How much is it a practice of following the clear decisions of others? How much is your halakha a matter of staying supple in practice? Does it irk you to have the word halakha associated with you at all, because of connotations of the definite and of authority? I make a case for the term halakha because, to my own Jewish ears, the words “post-halakhic Judaism” ring as the words “post-dharmic Buddhism” might strike a creative Buddhist. The very essence of our religious and spiritual Jewish tradition is searching out and making and enacting paths – and why should we jettison the best term for that trail-blazing, just because in some quarters the word halakha has ossified into a brittle, stony cudgel and a few have claimed sole rights to it? Nobody else, ultimately, can make your halakha, nobody else, regardless of that person’s pretensions and your own submission, is ultimately responsible for your path. You are not to be like Haran, remember?

We will all make mistakes – you, too. Sorry, but Abraham did, so I am quite certain that we will as well. Mistakes are particularly disturbing in the realm of the most holy, not least because, like Abraham, it is so difficult for us to know when we are making them and so easy for us to feel that we are not. In fact, the history of halakha, for those who care to study the long and rich annals of the discipline, has very often been a story of discerning and correcting mistakes. Any one sage may choose a moment to propound some corrective measure in the name of God – and then life moves on, and so does halakha, and even our ways of thinking about halakha move on, and about Torah, and about structures of authority.

Not for nothing, perhaps, is the traditional term for definitively determined law halakha pesukah. ‘Versified law,’ we might translate, but also ‘walking stopped,’ or even, ‘striding broken.’ Perhaps that sense is the reason the talmudic tradition, in its truest heart of hearts, does not really desire conclusions though it delights in endlessly seeking them. There is something broken about answers settled upon, try to stamp them as we may with divine imprimatur. We are living creatures, we are made to move, we might say, lehithalekh.

That is what Abraham means, perhaps, when he says all of this happened, when God caused me to wander. People round about may choose their self-assured and stony absolutes. (Perhaps we should read that as the error of the nations to which the targum points.) As for us, the seed of Abraham, God has called us, calls us still, and God wakes us to new life every morning, and the divine call drives us on, and, responding, we search, and with all our hearts, our sometimes erring hearts, we go, we cause ourselves to walk, we make our ways, and live.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lech Lecha: You Will Be A Blessing

When it came time for Avram to be pushed out of his homeland and onward to Kena'an, God promised him that he "will be a blessing", that "all the clans of the Earth will be blessed through" him.

As soon as they heard the news, all the Blessings in heaven milled before God's throne in agitation - which Blessing would be the one which Avram & his descendants could carry to the world?

Zocher Habrit stepped up and spoke.
But the Creator responded, "Et briti heferu."

Dayan Emet stepped up and spoke.
But the Creator responded, "Vechai bahem."

Borei Minei Besamim stepped up and spoke.
But the Creator responded, "Ketoret to'eva hi li."

Hatov Vehametiv stepped up and spoke.
But the Creator responded, "Oseh shalom uvorei ra, ani adonai oseh kol eleh."

Shehakol Nihiyeh Bidvaro stepped up and spoke.
But the Creator responded, "Hachayim vehamavet natati lefanecha... ubacharta bachayim."

Mekadesh Yisrael stepped up and spoke.
But the Creator responded, "Baruch ami mitsrayim, uma'aseh yadai ashur."

Shekocho Ugevurato Malei Olam stepped up and spoke.
But the Creator responded with a thin, silent sound.

Chanun Hamarbeh Lisloach stepped up and spoke.
But the Creator responded, "Verichamti et asher arachem."

Al Hatevila stepped up and spoke.
But the Creator responded, "Banim gidalti veromamti, vehem pash'u bi."

The last blessing to make a case was Meshaneh Habriyot, saying "Ma rabu ma'asecha adonai, kulam bechochmah asita, mal'ah ha'arets kinyanecha," and the Creator responded with a full lit countenance.

Upon hearing the Creator's decision, Shover Oyevim uMachnia Zedim yelled in offended shock: "But Meshaneh Habriyot applies equally to the righteous and the sinful, to beauty and ugliness, to victory and pain! How is this a sanctification of your name?"

At this God smiled and said, "Yadati. Salachti. I have known. I have forgiven."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Noach: Speech like Echad

"Vayehi kol ha-arets safa echat udevarim achadim"
At this time, all humanity had one language and few words (literally: single sayings)

The Dispersed Generation spoke in "single words" -- in speeches imitating the Singular One -- for ECHAD is a name of our God, as in Rabbi Yishmael's exhortation: "Do not pass judgement alone, for there is no single judge but Echad/The One".

In search of God-like power did the builders of the Migdal Bavel/Tower of Babel tresspass into the heavens, seeking by might and altitude to enforce their will upon the Children of Adam and upon the whole Earth. And while this delusion of divinity may have been directed towards the subjugation of those below them, it was by its very nature also a rebellion against the One who Dwells Above.

The cruelty and single-mindedness of the builders of the Bavel Tower are well known, how they allowed workers crushed beneath supports and let the weak and frail fall to their deaths when they could no longer add to the Tower's height.

Those who willed and ordered the Bavel Tower's construction had first settled their people into a valley. This valley in the land of Shin'ar could have been the new humanity's cradle, but instead was turned into a prison. Topography to curtail mobility. A tower for surveillance and military advantage. A single language for thought control.

The Lord God observed all this and wondered: "If this is what the Children of Adam can do to each other, there is no limit to what they, as self-proclaimed gods, could inflict upon the world!"

Therefore did the Singular One divide the human family, multiplying its diversity across the face of the Earth: so that there will always be alternatives -- another path for God's creations to follow and different words for them to speak. For once opened within the mind, the gate to freedom remains always accessible.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A petichta (a verse from far afield, and insights drawn from it, used to open new vistas on a present scripture) on bereshit bara “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth....” and related hagadot, from space-travelers of the past century. The idea here is to listen to the words of our first extraplanetary explorers in a way something like the way in which the redactors of classical midrash recalled and wove together the teachings of the earliest rabbinic sages – lehavdil (with due respect for the difference).

“When I see the work of Your fingers, the Moon and the stars that You have ordained – what is humanity that You should recall it, and the child of Adam that You should be mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4)

Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell says, “We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned was about the Earth. The fact that just from the distance of the Moon you can put your thumb up and you can hide the Earth behind your thumb – everything that you’ve ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the Earth itself, all behind your thumb, and how insignificant we really all are; but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the Earth itself.”

“...yet You have made him just a little less than a divine being, and have crowned him with glory and splendor” (Psalm 8:5)

Astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell, remembering the experience of looking out from the Apollo 14 capsule at the stars in the universe’s vastness, says: “It was a powerful, overwhelming experience. And suddenly I realized that the molecules of my body, and the molecules of the spacecraft, and the molecules in the bodies of my partners were all prototyped and manufactured in some ancient generation of stars – and that was an overwhelming sense of oneness, of connectedness; it wasn’t them and us, it was ‘That’s me – it’s one thing,’ and that was accompanied by an ecstasy, a sense of ‘Oh my God, wow, yes,’ an insight – an epiphany.

And the gathering together of the waters God called Seas” – Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Michael Collins says, of recovery from spash-down: “I can remember the beautiful water. We were out in the deep ocean, in the Pacific. It’s such a startling, violet color. I remember looking at the ocean and admiring it, “Nice ocean you’ve got here, Planet Earth!’“

Another interpretation: “How peaceful and calm and tranquil and serene, and, Lord, how fragile it appeared. That was, oddly enough, the overriding sensation I got looking at the Earth. It was: My God, that little thing is so fragile out there!”

“It really is an oasis and we don’t take very good care of it. And I think the elevation of that consciousness is a real contribution to saving the earth, if you will.”

“And God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it” – Astronaut John Young (Gemini 3, Gemini 10, Apollo 10, Apollo 16, Space Shuttle STS-1, STS-9) says: “Earth has changed a lot since we started flying in Gemini. There are a lot of things like urban pollution, and you can see that when you hit orbit now. You can see the big cities all have their own set of unique atmospheres, they really do. We ought to be looking out for our kids and our grandkids, and what are we worried about? The price of a gallon of gasoline. In the United States we’re worried about three-dollar-a-gallon gas; and that’s awful.”

And Apollo 12 Astronaut Al Bean says: “Since that time, I have not complained about the weather one single time. I’m glad there is weather. I’ve not complained about traffic. I’m glad there are people around. One of the things I did when I got home: I went out to shopping centers, and I’d just go around there, get an ice cream cone or something, and just watch the people go by, and think, ‘Boy, we’re lucky to be here.’ Why do people complain about the Earth? We are living in the Garden of Eden.

Another interpretation: “I felt that I was literally standing on a plateau somewhere out there in space, a plateau that science and technology had allowed me to get to – but now, what I was seeing, and even more important, what I was feeling at that moment in time, science and technology had no answers for – literally no answers. Because there I was, and there you were: the Earth, dynamic, overwhelming – and I felt that the world was just too much purpose, too much logic, it was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. There has to be somebody bigger than you, and bigger than me, and I mean this in a spiritual sense, not a religious sense. There has to be a creator of the universe who stands above the religions we ourselves create to govern our lives.”

And they heard the voice of God walking in the garden in the breeze of the day" –
Astronaut Charles Duke says: “I say my walk on the moon lasted three days and it was a great adventure, but my walk with God lasts forever.”

(Quotations are drawn from the documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon, currently in theatres. The twenty-four men who traveled to the moon between 1968 and 1972 remain the only human beings ever to have seen with their own eyes the circle of the Earth all at once, as a planet suspended in space.)