Holy Sparks

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, July 31, 2022

We praise You, Eternal God, whose presence fills creation, who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates everything… (the opening words of the Yotzer Or morning prayer, on Creation, from the Siddur – the Jewish prayerbook)

Seeing the incredible images from the James Webb Telescope, I have been overcome with a sense of awe and wonder. Reciting these words from the morning prayers resonates in my soul even more deeply than usual. The power of this telescope to deliver images beyond anything ever possible in the human experience opens worlds beyond worlds. The Webb telescope is one hundred times more powerful than the Hubble and it has traveled a million miles from earth. With it, astronomers hope to be able to peer into extremely distant galaxies, so far away that the light from them had to travel for almost the entire history of the universe to get to the telescope. They will see what the universe looked like when the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early universe nearly 14 billion years ago.

Our ancestors found awe and wonder in the vastness of the universe and the almost impossible chance of our existence on this tiny planet. In the Talmud our rabbinic teachers reflect on the lights in the universe and our experiences of the mystery of creation: “Who forms light and creates darkness” If God created the sun and moon and all the heavenly luminaries on the fourth day of creation, then where did the light that God created on the first day come from? The Talmud (Chagigah 12a) offers a daring solution, one with far-reaching implications for Jewish spirituality. It suggests that the first light of creation was not optical but spiritual, a light so dazzling that in it Adam and Eve were able to see from one end of space to the other end of time…” (Lawrence Kushner and Nehemiah Polen, My People’s Prayer Book (vol. 1, p. 45))

“Adam and Eve were able to see from one end of space to the other end of time”. In his response to this “First image from the James Webb Space Telescope”, Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson writes: “The deepest view ever obtained in the universe. Filled with galaxies. The several spiked objects are local stars in our own Milky Way. Ignore them. Everything else is an entire galaxy unto itself….”⠀⠀

In that first photo everything we can see seems so immense, and yet it is such a small part of the universe. If we were to pick up a single grain of sand from the beach, we see how minute that one grain of sand is in the vastness of the beach. That grain of sand represents the size of the area that is visible in the photograph from the Webb telescope. And in that tiny grain are more than 100 galaxies unto themselves.

We are worlds unto ourselves, constellations in an immeasurable cosmos, tiny holy sparks, light released into the universe, a remnant of the holy sparks that came before us out of the limitless mystery of time and space.


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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