Sunday, May 15, 2005

Universe for the Taking

In Hallel there is a passage stating: "Hashamayim shamayim lAdonay v'ha'aretz natan livney adam" meaning "The Heavens are for God and the Earth was given to man." (Pslam 115:16)

My problem with such a statement is that I think that whatever man can get his hands on in space is his. Humanity should not be limited to just our one planet (wonderful though it may be) but to gather resources from throughout our solar system and perhaps settle on other worlds as it becomes technologically feasible.

And even when man is plentiful in the solar system, I expect to see him flying out to other stars and to explore and to mine and to settle and colonize there too. The Heavens are not for God, what use has he with any of it? There are practically unlimited sources of power and materials untapped by humanity. Is this psalm saying that we cannot go out and get it? Space is our future and it belongs to all of us. (Has anyone read the Manifold series? Just call me Malenfant.)

This passage bothers me in the same vein as does one passage in Kiddush Levanah. Although I haven't said Kiddush Levanah myself more than a half a dozen times in my life, I do see a group of Jews praying to the Moon every now and then.

It says: "Just as I leap toward you [the Moon] but cannot touch you, so may all my enemies be unable to touch me harmfully."

While that may be a nice sentiment, the fact of the matter is that the Moon is perfectly reachable and touchable. I've heard crazy ways some people get around this obvious need to change the liturgy from saying that the Moon landings were faked (of course) or that since the astronauts were wearing gloves the whole time on the Moon, they never actually touched the surface. But really, come on! The absurdity of it all gets to me sometimes.

Shalom Aleichem! Shalom Aleichem! Shalom Aleichem!

8 comments:

alex said...

"Hashamayim shamayim lAdonay v'ha'aretz natan livney adam" meaning "The Heavens are for God and the Earth was given to man." (Pslam 115:16)"

Verse 3 of the same psalm makes one pause as to whether "The heavens" refers to other celestial bodies. Seems like it's talking about the spiritual world. If that's the case, then your entire post is a wild goose chase. The wildest part being about attacking those loons who who say the Moon landings were faked, and your treating that kiddush levana statement as literally as those loons treat the Psalms 115:16 verse.

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

If you were familiar with the views of ancient times and even of some popular Medieval Rabbis, you would know that they viewed the actual physical space above the Earth as the abode of God. Read the Prophets and see how they describe God sitting or standing on the firmament. The orbs of space were considered perfect and unchangeable because they were divine figures. That the "heavens" can have two very different meanings is a relatively modern development.

"...and your treating that kiddush levana statement as literally as those loons treat the Psalms 115:16 verse."

I treat the verse as literally as these other guys treat it. Of course it can easily be taken more figuratively, but I still suspect the author meant what he said.

Alex said...

Maybe the author DID take the kiddush levana sentence literally. Literally: JUST AS I LEAP, but cannot touch you. Not even Michael Jordan could leap and reach the moon.


Verse 3 also says: "Whatever He desires, He does." Isn't it fair to assume that His ability to DO, in the mind of the Psalmist, is not limited to the world outside the earth?

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

"Literally: JUST AS I LEAP, but cannot touch you. Not even Michael Jordan could leap and reach the moon."

That may be, but I think you would agree that had the author lived in the space age, he would have written differently.

"Verse 3 also says: "Whatever He desires, He does." Isn't it fair to assume that His ability to DO, in the mind of the Psalmist, is not limited to the world outside the earth?"

Um, yes? What's your point? Clearly the psalmist isn't limiting God, he was limiting humanity - which for whom, as far as he knew at the time, the sky literally was the limit.

alex said...

I had no idea that that's what you had in mind. I must've skipped right over the bulk of your essay!Thanks for clarifying. I was all ready to respond with the following:

"It’s a pity you didn’t attempt to balance the verse or two that, when read superficially, places God’s home up in the [physical] heavens with the verses that describe His dwelling place on Earth."

It appears to me that it's not the *passage* that bothers you. It's the one interpretation you gave it that bothers you.

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

Sure, the verse itself doesn't need to be interpreted that way. I just think that the original psalmist didn't anticipate the space age and that some people may interpret it in a similar way as I have.

Though that's more along the small anti-space contingent of Orthodoxy who sees space exploration on par with the Tower of Babel.

alex said...

So it seems that your essay was directed against a small number of people who hold/held that this verse is teaching that man could never escape the earth or that they should be restrained to the earth.
Sounds too small fry for you.

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

I was in a hokey mood that day. I had just read some good SF (Manifold by Baxter) and was in the mood to write about it. I tied it in to how the verse struck me when I saw it recently. I wasn't really targeting anybody.