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December 16, 2016  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars

By RABBI DAVID WEIZMAN Congregation Beth Shalom, Clearwater

On Dec. 8, 2016, one of our stars went dim.

John Glenn died at the age of 95. He served as a fighter pilot in WWII, flying 59 combat missions and then 90 more in the Korean War. After his military service he was a flight instructor and in July 1957, Glenn set a transcontinental speed record, flying from Los Angeles to New York in 3 hours 23 minutes. His was the first cross-country flight to average supersonic speed.

In April 1959, Glenn was selected as a Project Mercury astronaut. He became part of the Mercury Seven group, the first astronauts selected by NASA. On Feb. 20, 1962, in the midst of the Cold War and a year after the Russians had sent a man in orbit of the earth, Glenn blasted into space aboard Mercury’s Friendship 7 capsule and orbited Earth three times over the course of almost five hours, traveling faster than 17,000 mph.

He was welcomed back to earth with a tickertape parade 4 million people strong. JFK considered Glenn’s stature as an American hero so crucial to the morale of the nation that he was not permitted further missions lest any mishap should occur on a subsequent flight.

Glenn retired from the Marine Corps in 1965 as a colonel. After working for 10 years in the corporate world, John Glenn was elected to the U.S. Senate as the Democratic representative from Ohio, in which capacity he served for 24 years, championing causes like environmental protection, abortion rights, nuclear non-proliferation, and of course, space exploration and research.

On Oct. 29, 1998, while still a senator, Glenn made history again when he rode the space shuttle Discovery to become the oldest space traveler at the age of 77.

In 2012, John Glenn received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Midrash teaches that the departure of a righteous person from a place makes an impression. How so? It is taught in the story of Jacob’s journey from Beer Sheva towards Haran, that a repetition of his point of departure tells us something more. When the righteous person is in the city, he is its grander, its splendor and magnificence. Once that person departs from the city, that magnificence, grandeur and splendor is reduced.

Jim Brown also retired from the NFL at the peak of his career with a single season rushing record. He was asked recently about the influence that athletes can have in the area of social justice today. After a moment’s pause, he said that the next generation has some catching up to do, but that he has faith that they will.

Then he said something that sounded like that Hassidic tale of the man, who on his deathbed once said: “When I was a young man I set out to change the world … Now I see that I should have begun with myself.” Social Justice begins with how you treat people on a daily basis, Brown continued, the people in your family and the people at work. Then you create a world of mutual respect.

When a national hero passes from this world, how do we prevent the diminishment of his grander? Each person must recognize their potential for tiferet, the splendor whose source is Divine. That is what enables you to see the holiness in others and in all things created, among the moon and the stars.

Hag Trim Sameach

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.

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