There is a certain thrill to be in an environment in which a person normally cannot survive for any extended period of time. It gives the feeling of defying and traversing nature.
Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the moon landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. It was an incredible event that had billions of people throughout the world transfixed, as one small step was taken by one man which was a giant leap for mankind.
There were those who claimed that the moon landing negated a pasuk that we recite monthly during Kiddush L’vanah: “Just as I dance opposite you and cannot touch you, so should my enemies not be able to touch me for bad.” They claimed that now that an astronaut had landed on the moon and had touched its surface, those words were no longer applicable. But that assertion was blatantly false. In truth, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin never actually touched the surface of the moon. If their actual bodies had come into contact with the moon’s surface, they would have instantly died from lack of oxygen. What had actually touched the moon was a mechanical spacesuit that was able to sustain life. Essentially, they were enclosed in a piece of earth upon the moon. Thus, the words of the prayer remain as true as ever: Just as a physical hand cannot touch the moon, so too our enemies should be unable to physically touch us.
I have been told that scuba diving is an incredible experience, too. Aside from the fact that beneath the surface of the ocean are incredible worlds and countless breeds of fish and other sea creatures, it is thrilling to be under water for an extended time. There, too, it is the thrill of being in an unnatural surrounding, ensconced in a specialized suit that enables the diver to breath underwater.
I would imagine that that is also the thrill of skydiving. Personally, you couldn’t pay me enough to jump out of a moving airplane. But many people will indeed pay a lot for the experience. The rush of the air against one’s body when one freely falls towards the earth, hundreds of feet in the air, grants a unique feeling of living to the extreme.
But there’s a limit to how long a person can survive when he is outside of his natural element. When the “earthly provisions” are depleted, it isn’t long before he will die, unless he returns to a natural earthly environment.
A person’s soul also needs nourishment in order to thrive and be healthy. A Jew needs constant spiritual nourishment to help him achieve his divine mission. He has constant mitzvos, like t’filin, tzitzis, and mezuzah, and he has days that envelop him in holiness, such as Shabbos and the yamim tovim. But the ultimate “natural habitat of the soul” in this world was the Beis HaMikdash.
It was an incredible experience to visit the Beis HaMikdash and to see the kohanim performing the avodah with alacrity, hear the beautiful song of the Levites, and witness the incredible precision to the laws of purity in the most sanctified of places. The triennial pilgrimage for the holidays was a transformative experience that left an indelible impression upon one’s soul throughout the year.
In exile, we lack that experience. But we must at least recognize how remiss we are. We survive spiritually by surrounding ourselves with mitzvos and basking in the sanctity of the holy days. But we yearn for the Beis HaMikdash where the very air will be spiritually charged and foster greater connection with G-d. Such is the world we wait for – a world devoid of pain, self-doubt, and anguish, and a world filled with divinity and holiness.