Shira curled up on the hoverbed, eyes staring dreamily at the ceiling. Moments earlier, she had turned the dial on the ceiling control unit from Midnight Cloud to Crystal Clear, and as the electromagnetic filaments began to disappear and the galaxial horizon opened before her, she felt a rush of emotions;  joy, relief, a tinge of fear, but mostly love. This was one of the biggest days of her life, and she would savor the quiet to let it all sink in; today was the day that she let the Lightseeker free, and life would never be the same.

The heavens from Netunia-39 looked so different from the heavens on her native planet of Sintar-99. On Sintar, the hovering clouds of industrial pollution from the berylonium mines made it impossible to see any stars, that’s what happens when you mine on planets with no wind… But here on Netunia, you could see full galaxies! The night sky was so full of brilliant stars that you could only gaze at them through UV-treated glass, but when you did, the wonder was matchless.

Of course, it wasn’t the stars in the heavens that brought her to Netunia-39, it was the superstar guy she was matched with, but that didn’t turn out to be all that bright in the end. How wise was her great-grandmother from earth, she used to tell her all the time, “Shira, any guy that sounds too good to be true, is truly not as good as he sounds…”

But dating in the 23rd century was complicated, inter-galactic relationships meant that you were lucky if you saw your future spouse in person once before you got married, and you made do with what you had. Traveling millions of light years was prohibitively expensive, and while you could meet with a guy in virtual worlds as many times as you needed to feel comfortable, there was still something about seeing someone for the first time in the flesh that changed your whole perspective. Marrying that person two weeks later didn’t make it any easier, but there weren’t really any other options in the 23rd century, except of course, the Lightseeker, and now that was gone too.

Shira thought back to the childhood stories she heard from her great-grandmother, about this paradise-like planet called earth that had all the resources needed to support life. She had her doubts because grandparents have a way of exaggerating when they tell stories, and how could it even be possible that more than seven billion people lived on the same planet? There could never be enough oxygen, enough food, enough energy, enough radiation protection, in one place to support that massive of a population! After the earth was destroyed in nuclear warfare, people scattered to planets across thousands of galaxies and had to trade resources from planet to planet just to eke out an existence, but to believe that there were billions of people, on one planet? That had to be an exaggeration.

It was fortunate that people had figured out how to travel faster than light before earth was destroyed, otherwise who knows how or even if humanity would have survived. It took mankind thousands of years to learn to defy gravity, and fly into the skies on airplanes, but humanity quickly pivoted to the next big challenge, defying the speed of light. Intergalactic travel is impossible until you learn to defy a much harder rule of nature, the speed of light, what used to be called “the speed limit of the universe…” But with so many rogue states getting their hands on nuclear weapons in the early 21st century, it was only a matter of time before earth was not a hospitable. Humanity knew that without breaking the light barrier, intergalactic travel is impossible; the closest star to earth was 4.25 light years away (25 trillion miles), but the closest habitable planet was 27.8 light years away, and even that planet, Matwo-32, could at most sustain 7,000 people.

Luckily, in 2089, a group of scientist working for Space X, discovered how to direct light into a photon-compound synthesizer to duplicate the photons millions of times and use their energy to actually beat the speed of light. As soon as that happened, humans started staking out planets, meteors and asteroids that could sustain human life. It was a good thing, because the Great Nuclear War started not long after in 2142 and by 2167, earth was no longer habitable. Now, in the 23rd century, it was assumed that there were only 230 million humans alive at most, and they were spread out over roughly 45,000 planets or asteroids. Any surface that would be able to support human life and had a valuable resource was quickly settled, and city sized buildings shipped in from the closest construction planet.

Shira grew up on the mining planet of Sintar-99, where the element berylonium, was plentiful. Most planets had massive UV shades tethered in place above the city buildings, and they all needed berylonium for those shades, so her planet was relatively wealthy, but it was not an easy place to live, and the whole population was under 2,000 people. She always knew she would have to date someone from a different galaxy, there simply were no eligible bachelors on her planet. When she turned 20 the matching computers started sending hundreds of suggestions, and her parents took them really seriously. They got a premium subscription to the DNA database to make sure none of the suggested guys had any robotic implants or mind control units, and they went on virtual tours of any home planet of a suggested guy, but there was only so much background checking she could do.

They finally introduced her to David, a superstar pilot who was extraordinarily talented at spotting habitable planets even while whizzing by them at 860,000,000 miles a second. He wasn’t from the educated trained spotters, he was one of the gut spotters, but he had a real feel for it, and had already discovered 32 planets! They went out virtually 19 times, a few times on planets that David himself discovered, and Shira was caught up in the headiness of his celebrity and success. Four months later, Shira nervously climbed into Lightseeker,a small disc shaped PITA (Personal Intergalactic Travel Aircraft), and fifteen minutes later, after tearful goodbyes to her parents whom she would likely never see again, she was on her way to Netunia-39. It was a five month journey, where she was in cryogenic sleep and her little Lightseeker traveled 349 quadrillion miles.

When Shira finally met David, it was not love at first sight. They were so different, he had been brought up by only his father, his mother had died in a radiation flood when he was four, and she was brought up by two loving parents. David grew up in abject poverty, the son of a mine-bot operator, and fought his way to success, while she grew up the well-off child of mine owners. He had no siblings, she had three. It was like they were from different galaxies! It was for this reason that Shira insisted that Lightseeker remain on Netunia-39 with her. If things ever got really bad, she wanted a way back home.

Keeping a PITA grounded cost tens of thousands of UGCs a month (Universal Galactic Coins), and her parents who were on the line for the PITA lease begged her to let it go, but she couldn’t. Many of her friends abandoned her over her insistence that Lightseeker stay, “it’s not about the money,” they would say, “people need that aircraft to better that lives and it’s helping no one sitting docked on Netunia! Let it go help others!” But she couldn’t let it go. Worst of all, it created enormous strain between Shira and David. He always felt like she had one foot at the door at all times. No one spends tens of thousands of UGCs a month to keep an aircraft grounded unless they plan on using it soon, so he felt like she wasn’t giving their marriage a fair shot. She understood all of their points, especially David’s, but she just couldn’t let go, she needed that out.

Seven years after they got married, Shira was walking down the gangway between the residence tower and the agriculture pod to pick up some fresh greens for dinner when out of nowhere a flying farming robot spun out of control and came crashing right into her. Luckily, there were some medical staff nearby, and she was close to the medical wing, and they were able to save her life, but her arms were both torn off by the rotors and they were beyond salvage. As soon as she awoke in the medical pod, a million thoughts raced through her minds, the prospect of living another fifty years with no arms was beyond anything she could handle. There was talk of giving her bionic arms, but everyone knew that the minute you put robotic pieces into you, it was only a matter of time before you were hacked and taken over by mind control viruses. There was no hope for her.

That’s when David came in. He was on a mission when the news came in, he had turned around and came back as fast as possible and now he raced into the room to see his wife propped up on a bed with no arms, little bandaged stumps hanging from her shoulders. He rushed over with tears streaming from his eyes, and the first words out of his mouth were, “I’ll give you one of mine…” Bio-grafting had been perfected in the late 22nd century, but it was mostly used for cosmetic surgery and skin repair, not for limb replacement. No one willingly gave up limbs, but David was not no one, he was her husband. She tried to convince him not to, how could he pilot missions with only one hand? He’s end up being a mine-bot operator like his father, but David wasn’t listening, he was already going out to talk to the doctors.

The surgery was a week later, and it was quite successful. Sure the hand was a bit oversized for Shira’s smaller frame but the muscles and tendons worked beautifully. The nerve grafts always took longer to fully fuse, but a month later, and many hours of physical therapy later, she had full control of the hand; it felt almost natural to her. When she was finally released from the medical wing, the first thing she did was march directly to the transport bay and use her new arm to pull the lever to release Lightseeker. With a whir and a buzz it came to life, and two minutes later, it flew out of the transport bay.

Shira came back to the residence, and it was a different world. David had shown her that despite all the challenges they were having, he wanted no one other than her, and for the first time ever, she felt the same way. As she lay back on the hoverbed, staring up into the endless galactic night, she thought she caught the red flicker of Lightseeker, winging its way to a distant galaxy, and a smile took over her face.


What is love? That many be one of the greatest philosophical questions humanity faces, and certainly it has many answers, but one of them is security. I show my love to someone when they can see that no matter what happens, I’m committed to making the relationship work. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t have escape hatches, that I’m always relying on, and I’m not going to check out of the relationship either when it gets tough. It’s not going to be easy and we likely will have many ups and downs, many bumps in the road, but I’m here, and I will keep working in earnest to make it work despite the challenges.

This creates a beautiful upward spiral, because when my spouse sees how committed I am to the relationship, she appreciates my commitment and commits herself even more to making it work. That comfort of knowing that we are in this together and we will make it work, gives us a deep sense of security and a sense of being valued and cared for, a sense of love.

The Jewish people “married” G-d at Mt Sinai, but there was somewhat of a rocky start to the relationship; the medrash tells us that G-d held the mountain over our head and said to us, “If you accept the Torah, good, and if not, there will be your burial place.” And while we accepted the Torah, and followed it for many years to come, it was a rocky relationship. Throughout the 957 years from the time we accepted the Torah to the time we found ourselves in the Shushan mess, there were many periods where we didn’t hold up to our side of the relationship, the Jewish people strayed many times after the Ba’alim, the Ashterot and other idolatrous practices. So much so that eventually we were thrown out of our marital home (the Holy Land) and sent into exile.

But the Jewish people always had an out, an escape plan. Since we were originally forced into the relationship by G-d holding the mountain over our head, we always had a loophole that we could rely on to escape our “marital” responsibilities. “We didn’t choose this, it was forced upon us, so you can’t hold it against us when we don’t follow it!!!” The Talmud itself says, (Shabbos, 88a) “Rav Acha bar Yaakov says, “From here is a large caveat to the Torah!” Rashi explains, “Large caveat” — that if they are called to judgment as to why they [the Jews] do not fulfil what they have accepted upon themselves, they are able to respond “Our acceptance was coerced [and therefore null”

But at the time of the Purim story, that all changed. When we saw that Hashem stayed with us despite all the many ways we wronged him, despite centuries of us serving idols and despite many of the Jews attending Achashverosh’s party, which was essentially a “We beat the Jewish G-d” party, Hashem still stayed with us, and even though it looked like He abandoned us, He was actually holding our hands the whole time, orchestrating the salvation long before the crisis happened.

Once we saw that Hashem was committed to us no matter what, that Hashem would never leave us and choose another nation no matter what we did,  we finally were ready to let the Lightseeker go, we were finally able to let go of the caveat we had to exempt us from our Torah responsibilities. The Talmud continues, (Shabbos, 88a), “Rava says, even so, they [the Jews] again accepted it, [willingly this time] in the times of Achashverosh, as it says (Esther 9:27), “they ordained and took upon themselves…” the Jews ordained [reaffirmed] what they had already accepted upon themselves.

When we the Jewish people saw that Hashem was in this relationship with us for the long haul, we affirmed that we too would be in it for the long haul. We didn’t want an escape hatch or a caveat, we wanted to be all in.

On Purim, despite the chaos and hullabaloo, let’s make sure to find sometime to go somewhere quiet and think about all the times we can see in our life that Hashem stuck it out with us, even when we weren’t being out best. Let’s recognize how dedicated He is to us, how much love He showers us with, and let’s commit in our hearts and in our actions to give ourselves fully back to Him. Let’s commit to be more fully engaged Jews this coming year, in practice and in thought. Let’s commit to putting our everything into this relationship, and indeed it will be a time of “Venahofochu, asher yishlitu hayehudim bisoneihem, it will be an upheaval in which the Jews are able to overcome all of our enemies”, and see our relationship with Hashem flourish with everlasting joy!


Parsha Dvar Torah

This week’s parsha begins with the call for donations to build the first ever House of G-d. The Torah enumerates all the different items that were needed, a shopping list of fifteen items ranging from gold to purple wool, from acacia wood to red-dyed goat skins. Rabbi Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar (1696-1743, Morocco-Jerusalem) in his classic commentary, the Ohr HaChaim points out what seems like an anomaly in the order that Torah uses to list items that would be donated. Generally the list is ordered from the most expensive to the least expensive. The list begins with gold and then moves on to silver, copper, and moves all the way down to herbs and spices.

The anomaly is that the most expensive of all the items is listed last! The shoham stones were precious stones worn on the shoulders of the high priest, and they had to be big enough that the names of six tribes were engraved on each one of them. They were literally priceless, and should have been the first item on the list instead of the last! The Ohr Hachayim begins his answer with a statement from the Talmud (Yoma 75A), which says that these priceless stones which were impossible to find, were brought miraculously by the clouds (a whole new meaning to “airmail!”). Since no effort was expended in bringing this item to build the Tabernacle, they were the least important to G-d and were listed last.

When someone made a big sacrifice and donated a chunk of gold to the Tabernacle it was more meaningful that when someone made a smaller sacrifice and gave a chunk of silver. But the shoham stones, despite being priceless, did not come through someone’s self sacrifice and dedication, and were thus listed last. G-d doesn’t need gold, diamonds, or platinum. In a flash He could create mountains of gold. What G-d values is the love, dedication, and sacrifice of His people, and the times that required the most dedication were the one’s G-d counted first. Items that required no dedication were left to the end, regardless of their enormous price tag.

Rabbi Avraham Danzig (1748-1820, Poland- Vilna), in his classic work on Jewish Law, Chayei Adam, talks about general principles regarding the fulfillment of mitzvos. He expands the idea above by saying that if someone can afford it, they should pay for items that will be used for a mitzvah even if they can get it for free. For example, although someone can borrow a lulav and esrog to shake on Succos, they should buy one anyway, because when we invest in a mitzvah, it has more meaning to us (which is why it is more meaningful to G-d).

He supports this from King David’s acquisition of the Temple Mount, which would later house the First and Second Temples. The owner of the land, Aravnah the Jebusite, offered the whole thing to King David for free, but King David declined. “And the king said to Aravnah, “No; for I will only buy it from you at a price; so that I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt-offerings [which I had received] for nothing. (Samuel II 24:24)” King David didn’t want to give up the opportunity to invest himself personally in the great mitzvah of building the Temple. By derivation, the Chayei Adam says that we too should try to invest ourselves personally in any mitzvah we can.

For the past eleven years I have had the opportunity to lecture for Heritage Retreats, an organization that brings college students and young professional from all over the country together for a week of “learn hard, play hard.” As part of the program, we learn about many of the basic mitzvos, including tzitzis and tefillin. Often the guys are even given the opportunity to make their own tzitzis. It is not easy, and often takes two hours to complete a single pair of tzitzis. But reliably, when people invest in making their own tzitzis, they end up wearing them much more. The more we invest in a mitzvah, the greater the return we reap.  As the mishnah in Ethics of Our Fathers proclaims, (Avot 5:26) “26. Ben Heh-Heh used to say: According to the effort is the reward.”


Parsha Summary

This week we read from two Torah Scrolls. From the first one we read Parshat Terumah, the weekly portion, and from the other one we read Parshat Zachor, a special parsha that is always read the Shabbos before Purim.

In this week’s portion G-d asks the Jewish people to build a physical dwelling place for the Divine Presence. The Sages tell us that the real goal is that we each build a Tabernacle inside ourselves, but that the building is the physical expression of that idea, and one we can relate to much more easily. The Jews were asked to donate the many different materials with which the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), its vessels, and the holy vestments for the Kohanim would be made.

The items the Jews were asked to bring were: gold, silver and copper, turquoise, purple, and crimson wool, fine linen, goat’s hair, red-dyed ram’s skins, tachash skins, acacia wood, oil, spices, and precious stones. G-d tells Moshe that He will show him a model of the Tabernacle and that the real one should be built exactly like the prototype.

After that, the Torah begins to detail the design of many of the vessels. The ark was made of three boxes, the outside and inside ones of gold, and the middle one of wood. On top of the box was a special lid that had two childlike forms with wings engraved onto it. There were four rings in which poles to carry the aron were placed and, specifically regarding the ark, the Torah stipulates that the poles were never to be removed.

The Table was a vessel used to hold twelve loaves of showbread that were placed there for a week at a time, from Shabbos to Shabbos. The table was made of gold-plated wood and had a small crown-like ornament rimming it. It had a special system of poles and supports so that the showbreads could be held up properly.

The Menorah had to be carved out of one block of gold. It was about 70 inches tall and had one central mast with three branches leading off to each side. It was heavily adorned with sculpted flowers, knobs, and decorative cups.

The building itself was made of dozens of wood planks covered in gold and held in place by silver sockets. There were also gold plated wooden bars that held them together. There were two heavy tapestries covering these planks. The inner one was made of twisted linen woven with turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool and was held together with golden hooks. The outer one was made of a more simple material, woven goat’s hair, and was held together with copper hooks. The Sages tell us that this teaches us that a person’s home should always be more beautiful on the inside than on the outside. (Please note: There are so many lessons taught from everything in the Tabernacle, but space doesn’t permit me to list all of them. However, please discover these gems for yourselves!)

The altar was a hollow rectangular cuboid (the width and length were the same, the height was not) made of wood and covered with copper. It was filled with dirt. It had protrusions at each of the top corners that were exact cubes, netting surrounding it like a belt, and a protrusion in the middle that was large enough to walk on. Leading up to it was a long ramp, as no steps were allowed on the altar (see the end of Parshas Yisro).

Finally, the courtyard was swathed in a white linen sheet which was held in place by wooden pillars with copper sockets. The pillars had bands of silver going around them, and they held up the material with silver hooks. If it sounds like a beautiful place, that’s because it was one. May we all merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple, and may we once again have a place on earth where G-d’s Presence can reside in all of its Glory!!!

Parshat Zachor is a special portion read once a year on the Shabbos before Purim as part of a Biblical commandment to remember Amalek. The portion we read reminds us of the battle that the Jews waged with the Amalekei nation when we first came out of Egypt. It tells us to never forget Amalek, and to remember that Ha-shems throne will never be complete as long as Amalek survives. The connection to Purim is obvious, as the archenemy Haman of the Purim story is a descendant of Amalek.


Quote of the Week: The best way out of a problem is through it. ~ Samuel Fremont

Random Fact of the Week: Pumice is the only rock that floats in water.

Funny Line of the Week: I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

Have a Swell Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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