The summer of ‘69, forty years ago, was a benchmark period in modern history: Events that shook the country ranged from Woodstock to Chappaquiddick, the Manson Family murders to the My Lai Massacre, the Stonewall riots to the release of Abbey Road. And of course, in July of that year, the human race took its first steps on the moon.
People watched in awe as Neil Armstrong announced that “the Eagle has landed,” referring to the space module of Apollo 11, and then when he tread on the moon’s surface, declaring “that’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
Humans have been gazing at the haunted moon for ages. We have studied it, stared at it, blessed it, been illuminated by it, written poems about it, been drawn to it, tides have risen and fallen to its cycles, followed its light and waved to it – our silent, silver partner glowing in the sky. But now for the very first time, man actually stepped onto the lunar surface and waved back to Earth. The breathtaking descriptions of those astronauts seeing the rising Earth over the moon’s horizon still vividly capture our imaginations. Chills went up the spines of millions of people only a year earlier as they watched the images being beamed back to Earth from the lunar orbit, and as the astronauts of Apollo 8, led by Commander Frank Borman, read the first ten verses of Genesis as they watched the Earth rise for the first time in human history.
Four decades later the question remains: Was this “one small step” actually “one giant leap for mankind?” How exactly has mankind progressed during these forty years? Yes, technologies have boomed. Vast fortunes have been amassed. We have today, iphones, blackberries, the internet, medical breakthroughs – we are connected like never before. But are we really connected? Have our relationships grown, have our emotional bonds prospered? We have today GPS, helping us navigate and finding any location, no matter how obscure. But do we know where we are going?
Some had theological quandaries over the landing on the moon. They wondered if humans had not breached the “contractual” boundary between heaven and earth: “The heavens are the heavens of G-d; the Earth was given to man” (Psalms 115:16). Others were concerned what this conquest would do to human humility.
Well, their anxieties can be allayed. We are no closer to heaven today than we were in 1969. If anything, we may be farer. With all our achievements we have also been humbled time and again. We have much to achieve. You may remember the 1972 ad for the observation deck of the newly built World Trade Center – an ad which now has a macabre ring to it – “the closest some of us will ever get to heaven”…
And what about the moon? How has it changed in these forty years? Look up to heaven and the moon seems unfazed by all this hoopla. Despite “the eagle” landing on its surface, the moon still goes through its cycles, waxing and waning, as it did when Moses first looked up at it from the streets of Egypt, when G-d commanded him “this new moon shall be for you the head of months, the first of the months of the year.”
For the Jewish people the moon has always symbolized a message of hope and renewal. Just as all seems lost, as the moon disappears, it is reborn. As dark as things may get, the moon reminds us of our power to renew ourselves (see The New Moon). The moon teaches us the mystery of process – of metamorphosis and change, of transforming an old state of being into a new one.
Indeed, the mystics describe this period in the calendar, called “The Three Weeks,” as a time of the “lunar wound” (pegam ha’levanah). The moon is the dimension of malchus, dignity, and the destruction of the Holy Temples and the other sad events that transpired during this time reflect a wounded dignity – when our inner sense of self and self-esteem has been hurt and abused (see The Destruction and Restoration of Dignity).
Each of us has an indispensable soul within, which is the ultimate root of all confidence and sense of purpose. A secure person is one whose malchus is intact – a glowing moon. Our convictions, hopes and greatest dreams flow form our inner malchus – a profound sense of dignity and majesty that stems from the Divine image in which we were all created. It is the feeling that “you matter” and you have the power to achieve anything you set your mind to.
When malchus/dignity is wounded our self-confidence erodes. The insecure person is one whose malchus is injured – a darkened moon.
But just as the moon wanes it also waxes. Just as it is about to disappear into oblivion, our own inner dignity can be reborn.
I don’t know about you, but last night I detected a slight smile appearing on the moon’s face, as if the moon was winking at us as we on Earth applaud ourselves on the 40th anniversary of landing on the moon.
Landing on the moon forty years ago didn’t really make that much difference to our own inner beings. It didn’t intensify or weaken our personal dignity (yes, it made some Americans proud that we beat the Russians to it, but so what?). The moon and earth – and earthlings – remained more or less the same. The moon was not hurt more, but neither was it healed, by a few men leaving their footsteps in its dust. The moon just continued to go through its cycles, as it has been doing for millennia and will continue doing, oblivious to our machinations.
However, if our “one step” on the moon can humbly remind us that the internal “moon” of our own inner malchus/dignity remains intact, and that it can actually experience rebirth and renewal, than this indeed is “one giant leap for mankind.