IAF Col. Ilan Ramon, (With tongue in cheek)
I am worried. Very worried. No, not about Saddam Hussein, we will, with God’s help, deal with him, but about Colonel Ilan Ramon, our first Jewish-Israeli astronaut who at this very hour is located, together with his crewmates, in space shuttle Columbia flying around our universe.
Fantastic fellow. Proud of being Jewish, making it clear that he will only eat Kosher on board and informing us that he has some great Jewish surprises for us on the way. In fact this morning I saw a picture of him with a Kiddush cup and a small Sefer Torah in his hand preparing himself for Shabbat in the space shuttle. Baruch Hashem, we have fellows like this! Ken Yirbu! (1)
No, I was not even worried about Ilan when he sped into space from Cape Canaveral last Thursday at 5.39 pm Israeli time. True, some scientists at the Cape were worried and in fact postponed the flight several times. After all, the shuttle carried tons and tons of highly flammable substances which, God forbid, could explode on the way up to orbit and seriously spoil the crew’s whole day.
But I was not worried. I knew they would make it. You know why? Because surely Ilan must have said Tefillath Haderech (2) on his way up. And even tons and tons of highly flammable substances cannot stand up against such a prayer. It just won’t be able to explode. It cannot afford such a violation of the prayer. And right I was, they reached outer space safely and now they are flying around in orbit out of any danger. After all, let’s be realistic. Space is a most marvelous place. You cannot slip or stumble over misplaced objects, there is no traffic to hurt you, no snowballs that could land in your face, no demonstrations against the Labor party and above all no terrorists! And even Saddam can’t reach you. So Ilan and his friends are actually enjoying Gan Eden, the safest place in the world!
So what is it that worries me? Well it is this: How will we get Ilan and all the other fellows (and don’t forget the rats, spiders, bees, silkworms and ants (all non-kosher)!) back home again? After all, as everybody knows, the return is the most risky part of the whole enterprise. What if there is not enough fuel or energy left in the Columbia to get them back into the atmosphere and they get stuck in space? What if the engine gives out or they lose track of direction and cannot find their way back home again? What then? So you may say, okay, they will have to stay in space for the rest of their lives. So what? They won’t die any earlier because of this and they will make themselves comfortable in the space shuttle. We will send them food and perhaps some magazines and great novels to read. And if they really want we can even send them Rumikub or a chess set. So, what is the problem?
Okay, okay but don’t you know that people in space will be able to live for hundreds of years? Their bodies won’t give out as fast as ours do because they will no longer be exposed to all the global germs, atmospheric pressures, weather conditions, etc as ours are.
So they may very well become four hundred or even five hundred years old. And now I ask you: How will we keep Ilan and his friends busy for all these years? After all, how long can they play Rumikub and how many times will they be able to read Shakespeare’s Hamlet before getting fed up? Well, what have you got to say now?
But in all honesty there are much bigger problems: After reading Moby Dick for the seven hundredth time, no doubt Ilan will ask for the Talmud and he will start learning Daf Hayomi. (3) After all he knows that it is the largest “hardback” you will ever find. And you can keep on studying without ever getting bored. You can always ask Cape Canaveral to send more commentaries and sub commentaries to keep yourself busy. But you know what will happen? The others, all non-Jews, being completely bored will start learning Talmud as well. In fact they will learn chavruta (4)with Ilan. And no doubt they will start to like it. And after having gone through all the earlier and later commentaries, discussing its implications and learning its lessons, they will want to convert to Judaism! What are we going to do then?? To convert them we need a Beth Din (5) of three rabbis. And how are we going to get a mikva (6) into space? Okay, you will argue, we will send the rabbis and find a way to get a mikve to the Columbia, but how will we get the rabbis back? They will be stuck as well! That means more kosher food, more kiddush cups and challa covers. But that is trivial compared to their next requests. They will want to have their women and children sent over as well and you can’t refuse that. So you need a cheider (7) in space. That means you need to get rebbes to teach the children and you can be sure that they will also want their families to come!
And what about Succoth? We would need to send them a large succah together with lulavim and etrogim. Some of them would want to sleep in the succah, so we would have to send beds as well. In the meantime it will get more crowded in the Columbia. So we would need to send outer space homes, atmospheric shuls and also a spaced out chazzan (8) and a baal korei (9). True, the world would no longer be overpopulated. But I ask you, where is all this going to end?
And who is going to pay for all this? The Americans? Well, forget about it. Do you really believe they would spend millions of dollars to send a rocket into outer space so that a few Jews could have a lulav for Succoth? Or matzoth for Pesach or shlach manoth for Purim? In fact, suggesting such a matter would cause an outbreak of anti-Semitism and even President Joe Lieberman would be unable to do anything about it even if he will send his own lulav by special delivery.
So who would have to pay? Obviously the Israelis! And here matters would really get dirty. They are already paying about 70% of their income to the income tax authorities. And now you would want them to pay another 20% so that they can look after their brothers in space? There is just a limit how much more they can carry. They are already paying massive amounts of money to keep the patriots against Saddam updated and now you want them to pay for more of these missiles stuffed with lulavim in their warheads?
Well, now you understand my real problem. And be assured that the people in Cape Canaveral and even in the White House have not even thought about all this! They worry about matters of little importance such as safety, the “chemical garden” payloads, meidex, desert dust, probiotic bacteria but they forget the real thing. They think that all those gentiles in the Columbia will stay gentiles. This kind of naivety is well known but whoever has learned Talmud knows better.
So, I just pray that Ilan comes home safe and sound and when I hear that he and his friends together with their small zoo have arrived back home, I will be able to sleep better. I hope Ilan will say Birkath haGomel (10) in shul and I promise, I will organize a Kiddush and drink a shnapps to his and his friends’ health!
(1) “May there be many”
(2) Journey’s prayer
(3) Daily page of Talmud learning
(4) Learning Talmud by two people together
(5) Rabbinical Court
(6) Ritual bath required for conversion
(7) Religious school
(9) Person who reads the weekly Torah section in synagogue
(10)Blessing which one needs to say after having gone through a dangerous situation.