Posted on October 15, 2021
October 15 5782
Where no Jew Had Gone Before
This week William Shatner went up in space. For real, not in a simulator, not in a movie, and not at warp speed. His reaction: “Oh, wow! No description can equal this.”
William Shatner, of course, played Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise in the original Star Trek series. As of Wednesday, he joined the ranks of about seventeen other Jews who have been to space (and about 14 other Canadians). At 90 years old, he is now the oldest person to have gone into space.
And he chose a most appropriate week for his trek towards the stars. It is parashat lekh lekha, the week we read about the mission of Avram (who becomes Abraham): to boldly go where no Jew had gone before.
Avram’s first recorded trip is quite literal. God said to him: “Lekh lekha, Go you forth, from your land, from your birthplace, from your ancestral home to the land that I will show you.” Avram did as he was commanded. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their worldly goods, all the people that were part of their household, and they all went to Canaan, the land that God promised to him. Israel, the Promised Land, is of course pivotal in the Jewish experience.
They brought all the people who were part of their household to Israel with them. We might ask: what people? The midrash explains that Avram and Sarai were teachers and soulmakers. They taught many people about God. Many of those who learned from Avram and Sarai joined their household. To this day people who choose Judaism are often known as part of the household of Abraham and Sarah. And to this day teaching and education are very important Jewish values.
Abraham set the path for the Jewish people in other ways as well. Jews are iconoclasts who are known to challenge authority; see the midrash of Abraham smashing his father’s idols. Jews have been known to challenge even the Supreme Authority; see the story of Abraham bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom.
Even before God called him to lekh lekha, Avram looked to the heavens and experienced extreme wonder. Was that the forerunner of Jews in space? The midrash tells us that it was through that wonder that Avram realized the existence of God at all! We hear echoes of that wonder in our daily prayer service, in blessings for extraordinary natural occurrences, in some of the Psalms. William Shatner’s response (“Oh, wow!”) may not have been the most articulate, but it clearly was heartfelt and real.
Avram’s mission: To boldly go where no Jew had gone before. Since then we have been following in his footsteps, sometimes all the way to the stars.
Topic for Shabbat Morning: Hearing Hagar