Like any other Argentinean child, I really wanted to become a soccer player. My first encounter with a vision for the future, my first impulse when completing the phrase, “When I grow up I want to be…” was certainly shared by all my peers in elementary school. We all wanted to be part of that passionate game which shapes our national DNA. However, unlike many of my childhood friends, I didn’t want to become just a soccer player. Soccer was to be my daytime job. My nights, on the other hand, would be devoted to exploring the heavens. Yes, I wanted to be a professional athlete, but I also wanted to become an astronomer.
Back in those days, I read as many books as I could about the basics of our universe. I was intrigued by the life of every different kind of star, and I studied a lot of facts about the (by then) nine planets – Pluto was still on the list – revolving around the sun. With my parents’ help, I even sent a letter to the NASA, and I was thrilled to get an answer from them. A huge package of posters, postcards and booklets came to my door from that prestigious organization. It was amazing.
By the time elementary school was over, I knew that I didn’t have the athletic skills to become a soccer player, nor the mathematical discipline and talent to be a thoughtful astronomer. When I became an adolescent, my love and commitment for serious learning shifted from asteroids to Jewish texts. It was out of that deep love for Torah and Judaism that I decided to be a Rabbi.
Looking back, even if the gap between a scientist and a spiritual leader seemed to be enormous, it was clear to me that I had found a different way to connect with the profound mysteries of existence. The same radical amazement I experienced while chasing a super moon in an open field was transformed into a continuous sense of awe for the divine, always luring us to become better human beings based on an understanding of the miracle of life in its wider context. While trying to get a real sense of our place in this universe, I realized that both science and religion become two different ways to express similar humbling feelings. They are the prose and poetry that mingle in an ongoing dialogue that can always flourish, offering us different insights to enrich our existence.
During Rosh haShanah we say: “HaYom Harat ha-Olam… Today is the birth of the world.” When we reflect on that fact, we are brought back to that singularity that became the origin of everything. We realize that whatever exists today is the ongoing dance with the same basic particles that were called into existence in the very first moments of creation, and were the same basic particles from where life emerged, first as single cells, then as increasingly complex configurations that eventually allowed for our appearance here on earth. For me, the understanding of our essential connection to the rest of creation should be a wake up call. Since we are made – as my childhood hero Carl Sagan used to say – of star-stuff, we need to be aware of our larger-than-life link to the universe. Then, our task should be – as my early adulthood hero Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote – to raise our voice in song with the rest of the universe, as we work together for a better world.
Remembering the birth of the world is both a reminder of our common origin and our utmost diversity. As the midrash teaches us, G-d coins every man out of the mold of the first human being and yet, everyone of us is different. So, while each of us needs to find our own spiritual path that will empower us to be the best possible version of ourselves, we also need to remember that we are part of a transcendent unity that links us, even if we are not always aware of that. The network of those insights coming together should bring us to a state of elation and awe, a state that could help us as we go this New Year through the pages of the machzor.
From the pages of the book to the awesomeness of the skies, in these days of renewed first encounters, let us see the world as it is, let us affirm our place in mending the world, and let us remember Walt Whitman’s lines that read: ‘I celebrate myself, and sing myself, / And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good / belongs to you.’email print