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Great Journeys
“You take the healthiest people and put them in the most hostile environment,” says Dr. Smith Johnston, MD, chief medical officer of NASA. Dr. Johnston is responsible for the occupational health of astronauts working under extreme conditions in space, such as radiation, disruption of the biological clock, and weightlessness. Loss of bone and muscle mass are among the common problems suffered by astronauts after a long period in space. Each astronaut who works in one of NASA’s laboratories or in the International Space Station is monitored on earth by a crew of at least 200 people.

Of course, this raises the question of whether, given all these risks, it is worthwhile to send humans into space at all, when robots could go in their place. Astronauts themselves would argue that there are tasks they perform in space that no robot could be programmed to do. And perhaps, the fame and thrill they get from a space mission is something they could not attain anywhere else…


The plight of the astronaut and the myriad risks he or she willingly undertakes has a striking parallel to the journey that all of us take in this world. Unlike the astronaut, though, we do not blast off into space but rather descend down to earth. After a lengthy period of preparation (as described in the Zohar) the soul is selected for its spiritual leap from the greatest heights to the lowest depths.

The soul is fortified with all the strengths it needs for the journey, and it is watched carefully from above during every stage of this process. Still, there is no guarantee that the soul will complete its mission safely and return “home” in peace, to the same spiritual stature that it came down with. We cannot even imagine the terror and pain that the soul goes through during its descent, when it must take leave of its Divine origin and be enclothed in a physical body. Likewise, we cannot envision the accolades, the sense of accomplishment of the soul when it returns from its journey.

The ultimate reward for the soul has not yet been given. To go back to Heaven is not the true reward for the soul, nor is it enough of a justification for the grueling and dangerous journey. The ultimate reward will be in this world, in the physical world, as a soul in a body. This is the place that G-d intended as a home; this is the place where we have been sent on a mission to perfect the world into a space for G-d’s Shechinah to rest.


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