For the week ending 15 September 2012 / 27 Elul 5772

Parshat Netzavim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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On the last day of his life, Moshe gathers together all the people, both young and old, lowly and exalted, men and women in a final initiation. The covenant includes not only those who are present, but even those generations yet unborn. Moshe admonishes the people again to be extremely vigilant against idol worship, because in spite of having witnessed the abominations of Egypt, there will always be the temptation to experiment with foreign philosophies as a pretext for immorality. Moshe describes the desolation of the Land of Israel which will be a result of the failure to heed G-d's mitzvos. Both their descendants and foreigners alike will remark on the singular desolation of the Land and its apparent inability to be sown or to produce crops. The conclusion will be apparent to all - the Jewish People have forsaken the One who protects them, in favor of idols which can do nothing. Moshe promises, however, that the people will eventually repent after both the blessings and the curses have been fulfilled. However assimilated they will have become among the nations, eventually G-d will bring them back to Eretz Yisrael. Moshe tells the people to remember that the Torah is not a remote impossibility; rather its fulfillment is within the grasp of every Jew. The Parsha concludes with a dramatic choice between life and death. Moshe exhorts the people to choose life.


Journey To Beyond

…to love the L-rd, your G-d, to listed to His voice and to cleave to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days…”(30:20)

It seems that for once, curiosity has not “killed the cat”.

In a mind-boggling feat of near-science-fiction, the United States has managed to send a remote exploration vehicle called "Curiosity" weighing nearly a tonne,the biggest capsule Nasa has ever used, bigger even than the Apollo Command Module, to explore the surface of our nearest planetary neighbor in space – the planet Mars.

Let’s consider this journey: Eight and half months after leaving Earth, a distance of 250 million kilometers, it found its "entry keyhole" in the sky just a few kilometers across. Had it not done this, it would have had no chance of arriving at its target. The capsule entered the outer limits of Mars’ atmosphere traveling at 20,000km/hr. All that speed had to be reduced to a mere stroll, for when the rover's wheels touch the ground a mere six-to-eight minutes later it was moving at no more than half a meter a second.

As the capsule raced downwards, it ejected ballast blocks to move its center of gravity and tilt its angle of approach. This gave the vehicle lift. And with the aid of thrusters and some dead-reckoning, the entry capsule flew a path through the upper atmosphere, the underside of the capsule heating up to over 2,000 degrees Celsius.

Then more ballast blocks were ejected to straighten the vehicle before, at 11km altitude and with the descent velocity now reduced to 1,400km/h, the capsule deployed a supersonic parachute. This immense canopy opened instantaneously and absorbed an impulse of almost 30 tonnes.

The parachute further slowed the fall to about 450km/h, and at that point, at an altitude of about 1.5km, we saw what flight system manager Mike Wallace called the "crazy" stuff.

A "sky crane" holding the rover dropped away from the parachute and using thruster rockets to further slow its descent, it headed down towards the surface of the planet.

At just 20m above the ground, the sky crane hovered and lowered the rover down to the surface on three nylon cords. The wheels made contact, the cords were cut, and the crane flew away to crash at a safe distance.

Quite a journey!

But this journey pales in comparison to another journey.

It says in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “…and the day of death is better than the day of birth. It’s better to go to a house of mourning than to a wedding feast.” (Kohelet 7:1-2)

The best advice comes from someone who is about to leave this world, someone who can look back over his life with the objectivity of someone who is leaving it.

And the best advice comes from the best teacher, and no teacher was better than Moshe Rabbeinu.

And what was Moshe's advice to his beloved people on the last day of his life as he looked back over his journey through this world?

"…to love the L-rd, your G-d, to listen to His voice and to cleave to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days…"

When we are born we face a journey that dwarfs the journey of “Curiosity.” From the moment we leave the “launch pad” of birth, our days are filled with difficult and sometimes seemingly insurmountable obstacles. At every turn we can make mistakes, sometimes fatal for our spiritual well-being.

Only when we touch down on the surface of the World-to-Come can we finally relax. The whoop of exaltation in the control room of the JPL in Pasadena when Curiosity landed is nothing compared to the whoop of the soul when it finally touches down in the World-to-Come to be satiated with its just reward for having traversed a universe of trials and challenges.

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