D’var Torah: On the anniversary of the Moon Landing

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 19 July 2019

[The service began with a recording of Buzz Aldrin speaking from the surface of the moon]

When you stand in this position in our Beit Tefillah, as we rabbis do, constantly in your line of sight is the moon.
Well, not the moon itself but the representation of the moon in its different phases that Ardyn Halter placed into his windows of the Jewish year.

The presence of the moon there speaks to its centrality in our lives. It is the moon that sets the rhythms of our calendar.  Awareness of the moon is incorporated into our prayers – Each New Moon is announced on the Shabbat beforehand; each New Moon itself is celebrated in the liturgy with additional prayers and Hallel.

It was on a New Moon – Rosh Chodesh Av 5729 – also known as July 16th 1969 that the Apollo 11 mission was launched, the mission that would see the first men set foot on the moon.
The moon, that constant presence in our lives, was for a few days the focus of the attention of the whole world.
At this exact time in the secular calendar, 50 years ago, Apollo 11 had just disappeared behind the moon, and out of contact with Ground Control for the first time.
By this time tomorrow evening, 50 years ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had begun the journey from the command module – where Michael Collins remained – to head to the surface of the moon.


There are many reflections we might make on this remarkable achievement – on the courage of those involved who went with little assurance that they would return; the imagination, ambition and creativity of those behind the scenes; the universalism of the experience – watched all around the world.

We might also reflect that for many of those involved, they understood it as a sacred task.
One of the less told elements of the moon landing story was that the first food and drink consumed on the moon was communion wine and bread – eaten by Buzz Aldrin, a devout Presbyterian, in a private moment of thanks and appreciation, as Neil Armstrong watched on.
Before he did so, he said the words with which we began our service a moment ago:  “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

They were grateful not only for their survival, but for the extraordinary human capability to explore, to use science and creativity to reach out beyond ourselves.  They understood it as a divine gift; to do something that only humans are granted the ability to do, to reach out into the heavens.  They were seeking to discover God’s universe on behalf of humankind.

This was an idea to which Aldrin returned as he made the journey back from the moon, when he read aloud verses from Psalm 8, which we will read together to begin our tefillah.  We do so as a moment of gratitude – not only for the events of 1969 but for our human capacity for exploration, and for the beauty of the universe we inhabit:


Psalm 8
God, our Creator, how glorious is Your name in all the earth!
Your majesty is proclaimed beyond the heavens.
In the mouths of children and babes in arms You placed strength,
to rebuke Your foes, silencing enmity and vengeance.
When I look up at Your heavens, the work of Your hands,
the moon and the stars You set in place,
what is humanity that You should remember it,
or mortal beings that You should care for them?
Yet You have made them little less than divine,
and crowned them with glory and splendour.
You gave them power over the works of Your hands,
You put all things beneath their feet.
Sheep and cattle, all of them, also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
that make their way through the oceans.
God, our Creator, how glorious is Your name in all the earth!