Both Richard Branson in his Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos in his Blue Shepherd have commented on the awesome experience of being up in space, looking down at earth.
“Nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” said Branson.
“It is one thing to recognise it intellectually,” said Bezos. “It is another to actually see it with your own eyes.”
Indeed this has been the reaction of every astronaut before them. They are awestruck and overcome with a sense of humility as to who we are and our place in the universe.
Yet, 2500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah, in the haftarah for this week’s parasha, says almost the same thing.
Isaiah, in his prophetic mind’s eye, sees G-d looking down on earth from above, viewing our planet as an orb and mankind as insects:
Hayoshev Al Chug Ha’aretz Veyoshveha Kachagavim – “He dwells above the circumference of the earth and sees its inhabitants like grasshoppers.” (Isaiah 40:23)
The prophet could already visualize this, thousands of years ago, but in our generation, man has been able to see it for himself.
Having a sense of humility is seen as an underlying value of being Jewish. In the parasha, Moses tells us that G-d loves us not because we were so numerous,
Ki Atem Hame’at Mokol Ha’amim – “For you are the smallest of all the peoples” (Devarim 7:7).
Rashi comments that unlike pagan monarchs such as Nebuchadnezer who were full of self-aggrandizement, the greats of Jewish history like Abraham and Moses were humble and did not glorify themselves. It is that quality that G-d recognized in us. Although He chose us to be His people, we did not then assert ourselves claiming to be better than the rest. We recognized our drawbacks.
That Jewish trait is difficult to observe in today’s world. Humility is unfashionable. The conventions of social media demand that we judge ourselves and others by the number of likes and followers received.
If there has been one positive aspect of the covid pandemic it has been a great equalizer. It has made every one of us appreciate our limitations. Notwithstanding our abilities to fly into space, the tiny coronavirus was able to ground us all.
As we move forward cautiously, re-opening once again, we do so with a greater sense of humility, realizing that there is so much we cannot control. We don’t need to gain astronauts wings to give us that perspective.