Liquid water exists on Mars. “This is tremendously exciting,” declared James L. Green, the director of NASA’s planetary science division. He commented, “We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’ But following the water is a critical element of that.”
Pictures from the surface of Mars of the dark, narrow, streaks that are evidence of flowing water amaze us and capture our imaginations. Our ability to see a distant and mysterious part of our solar system, and the technological achievement that makes it possible, reflect the spirit and wonder of human curiosity. All of this is instinctive to our nature. The mysteries of our universe fascinate us. Asking about the origins of our existence captivates us.
“When God began to create,” starts the Torah. From the magnificent mythologies of Genesis our ancestors propounded, religious narratives that form the ethical and faith foundations of our lives, to the simple curiosity of every child who asks, “Where did I come from?” this quest to explore the universe is primal and natural. It’s also religious.
Life’s mystery is God’s reality. Torah begins by describing the vastness of the universe. In Torah we human beings complete God’s creation. We exist and find our purpose in contrast to God, exploring the world and discovering both the incredible potential and real limits of our human, physical strengths and abilities. “Fill the earth and subdue it,” says God to humanity.
Exploring Mars may be the next new horizon in human history. In the spirit of explorers from every age, we seek to fulfill our destiny and to understand our lives and our place in the context of all else that exists. As we explore, I hope we’re responsible.
To subdue the earth also means to care for it, to protect the universe and our environment from the by-products and impacts of our technology and exploration. It also means using what we create, learn, and discover to enhance and improve our lives here on earth. Before we build colonies on Mars tomorrow let’s use our resources to reclaim neighborhoods in and around the communities where we live today.
Should there ever be or ever have been life on Mars or anywhere else, our identity would be no different than it is today. As Jews we live aware of different cultures and peoples in communities all over the world. Judaism and Jewish identity always provide us boundaries of personal meaning. Wherever Jews gather to live our particular religious view and lifestyle come from the shared memories and communal customs we carry from every time to every place. No matter how familiar or how far out may be the contexts in which we live.
The discovery of life or the possibility of life beyond what we know should only reinforce a Jewish sense of who we are and how we live. It would be no different than our awareness today of different cultures and peoples. As Jews we can always be distinctive. Our values and beliefs travel with us.
By the way, a conclusion that there is no other life beyond what we know would do the same thing. It would serve to remind us of our unique mission and place. Created in the Divine image, we are our brothers and sisters keepers.
Our interest in exploring Mars is intellectual, emotional, and very human. Just like everyone else’s. I think it can also be religious. It can strengthen our spiritual insights and awe.
We Jews are a people who in covenant with God proclaim a message of morality and an embrace of humanity. We are a people who daily appreciate the gift of our lives and the magnificence of the world it is our privilege to inhabit. Jewish life and tradition are valid everywhere and at all times, regardless of location or era. Holiness and sanctity, goodness and gratitude must be manifest wherever and whenever people live.
“You are My witnesses, declares the Eternal God.” Whether or not life exists beyond earth, each of us is part of an eternal people who will always proclaim God’s presence in the universe.