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Float, Flap, Fire
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

It is impossible to achieve true upward movement without opposition. Just as the air's opposition is employed to create a stronger upward movement than that which could be obtained using flotation, so too for a person to transcend the materialism of the world and get closer to G-d, it is not enough to involve the good inclination alone.  - The Rebbe, Mind Over Matter - Aviation and Space.

The epic wanderings of the Israelites through the desert started with a unique miracle. While the 42 trips from Ramses to the Plains of Jericho were all land rovings (even the one through the Reed Sea), the preliminary trip that brought those millions of Jews together from all over Goshen to Ramses was something else, a kind of a super-quick flight that is earlier described in the Chumash as "on eagles' wings."

Now 3,300 years later, after our individual and collective wanderings throughout history, we too are poised for redemption, positioned at the "Plains of Jericho," ready to enter the land in the true and complete redemption with Moshiach at our head.

And since we've reached the time of "As in the days of your going out from Egypt, I will show you wonders," it's no great surprise that nearly all the millions of Jews that have come to Israel in recent years have flown there, albeit not on eagles' wings nor on the "clouds of heaven," but airborne nonetheless.

And wondrous it is, for after all, commercial jetliners only started to 'take off' in the 1950's. Hardly 50 years earlier, the Wright Brothers tested the first airplane, and before then, even the famed scientist, Lord Kelvin, declared that "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."

Back in the 19th Century, only lighter-than-air craft like those disaster-prone dirigibles and zeppelins were thought to be feasible. Now in the 21st Century, we have even seen the advent of space tourism, using rockets to propel us beyond the stratosphere.

The Rebbe watched this evolution of modern man's conquest of the skies and derives lessons in divine service from each of these diverse technologies, as you can see from this fascinating letter of the Rebbe. In the meantime here are my thoughts, flighty as they might be.


The airships of the 19th Century worked on the basis what is called Archimedes' Principle. This ancient Greek shouted, "Eureka! - I discovered it!" when he noticed that an object immersed in water displaces a volume equal to its own. Now if the object weighs less than the weight of the water it displaced, the object floats, but if it weighs more, it sinks.

This helps explain how it is that a small ball of metal will sink to the bottom of the sea while a gigantic ocean liner made of the same metal will float. The trick is that the ocean liner is shaped in such a way to hold a lot of air, making its average density less than that of water, and so it floats.

Blimps and helium balloons work the same way - except they float in air instead of water. The gases inside are less dense than the air around so they float upward. A balloon won't go up forever, though, because once it reaches thinner air way up high, the densities inside and out are comparable and the balloon holds its height. If you then let out the gases, the balloon deflates and falls.

What can we learn from boats and balloons?

We all get overwhelmed sometimes and when the burden gets too heavy, we drown in our problems and sink into a bad mood. Here are two things you can do to restore your buoyancy and rise above it all.

First, get inspired. Technically speaking, inspiration means to inhale, breathe in. Swimmers and scuba divers will tell you that once you've got air inside of you, up you will go. If you let go some of the emotional baggage and generate some ruach, you will lighten up and that will give you the lift you need.

Second, realize that heat rises. Pound for pound, hot air is lighter because it expands. When you act more enthusiastic and expansive, you will overcome your inertia and your elevated spirits will move you to a whole new level.


These days, if flight is your aim, planes are your game - no wings, no go. All the human ingenuity in the world could not come up with a better plan than to mimic the moulding and motions of birds' wings.

The first feature is the shape, what we might call aerodynamic. Whether avian or aviator, wings are typically rounded on top and pretty much flat on the bottom. The result is that when a bird or plane flies, the air over the wing moves more quickly and therefore exerts less pressure downward. The greater upward pressure from the relatively still air below results in a lift force that raises the bird or aircraft. This is called Bernoulli's Principle.

The second wing thing is the flapping motion that planes can't do, the downward push that generates an equal and opposite upward reaction, raising the bird upward. But what planes lack in wing muscle and flexibility, they make up in speed-generated lift. Moving ahead is the key.

If I were to wing a lesson for life from all this it would be this: To lift your self up, keep moving ahead. One would think the elevated upper surface of the wing would slow things down, not speed them up but that's not true. The curved wing teaches us two things - First, that if there is a greater distance to travel and a limited amount of time, you can get there faster. And second, alacrity doesn't create more pressure. On the contrary, it minimizes it, and that's an uplifting thought.


Flying is a dream come true, but with floating and flapping we are limited to travels in the atmosphere around the earth. If we really want to transcend, the out-of-this world experience is with rockets. With no air to hold you up or to push down against, your only recourse is self-propulsion, the modality of rocket ships. Firing up the ignition chambers gives you a push in every direction but one ... down, and that sends you on high with or without an atmosphere to support you or oppose you.

One lesson from this is self-reliance. If the goal is to go higher, farther and faster, you must realize that ultimately you go it alone. At some point there's no one to hold you up, nor anyone to hold you back. We are competing only against ourselves. But for this you need special fuel and lots of it, a very strong vessel, and firepower. The purest motivational fuel is chassidus, a refined personality is the vessel, and heartfelt prayer provides the ignition.

As the Geulah unfolds, we will experience divine revelations transcending even those at Sinai. Back then it was overpowering - our souls flew backwards. This time, we are ready - so much so that already now we are flying forward to greet it, may it happen immediately NOW!



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