© Photo by Jessica Meir @Astro_Jessica
By Meira Weber
November 12, 2019
One of my friends once joked, “Jews have a blessing for everything!” We laughed at the time, but it’s true. We make blessings on food before and after we eat, on new clothes, on thunder and lightning and rainbows, and even when we smell a fragrant flower or herb.
Taking a moment to stop and thank God, for even the smallest occurrences in our lives, breeds in us an attitude of appreciation and awe. It’s an incredible world that God has created for us, a delicately perfect ecosystem that functions – down to its tiniest atom – exactly the way God planned. And so we take just a few moments of our day to thank Him.
Appreciation takes many forms, and mine has always manifested as an admiration and awe of nature. I have always been particularly fascinated with outer space, so I closely follow the activities of NASA and SpaceX and SpaceIL, Israel’s own space program. For those who are unaware, Jewish astronaut Jessica Meir became one of the first women to participate in the first-ever all-female spacewalk outside of the International Space Station on October 18th, 2019. Her father is an Israeli Jew, and on November 1st, Jessica captured and published an incredible set of photos of her father’s home country, Israel, from space.
Since the photos were released, I haven’t been able to get them out of my head. I find myself unconsciously opening the photos on my phone, zooming in and out, feeling the breath go out of me as I take in the cloud patterns drifting above my homeland, the light patches of desert and clusters of green forest, and the mirrorlike surfaces of the seas glittering with reflected sunlight. The curve of our planet skews Israel’s shape into one I’ve never seen depicted before. I gaze at these photographs, taken by a daughter of our Biblical homeland, and tears come to my eyes.
I needed to say a blessing. Such beauty and wonder could not pass before me without eliciting a blessing from me. But what blessing does one say on outer space?
I did the only thing I could do: I researched. The first blessing that came to mind is the one we say upon seeing awe-inspiring natural phenomena, such as great mountains or a vast desert or upon witnessing a comet pass through the sky: Blessed are You, our God, King of the Universe, who forms the work of Creation. It is a heavy and worthy blessing, one I have said many times before. But then I discovered that there is another blessing, one that I had never heard of before this research. A blessing even more powerful.
It is a blessing for outstanding beauty, reserved for only the most beautiful things we see in all our lives, beauty that makes our hearts skip and our souls leap. Some sources even said that most people will never have reason to say this blessing at all, because when would we ever have the chance to witness with our own eyes the epitome of what beauty could be in this world?
I looked back at the stunning photos, photos of the land God promised Abraham all those centuries ago, photos taken from what felt like God’s own perspective. I gazed at the shimmering seas and the nubby mountaintops, the rich landscape and the curve of my country’s shore. And I knew. This was my moment of beauty.
Blessed are You, our God, King of the Universe, who has such [beauty] in His Universe.
The photo had taken my breath away. The blessing brought it rushing back.
I don’t intend to stop following news from space. I will keep watching the skies, and keep following updates from Israel’s SpaceIL in preparation of the launch of their second lunar lander, Beresheet 2. My appreciation and awe of the universe God created for us won’t go away now that I’ve seen Jessica Meir’s photos. But something inside me feels fuller, now. The knowledge that we have the ability to see such beauty, and to bask in it, is heady. And knowing that God has put that beauty right in our grasp is something that will never be minimized.
I have said the blessing for beauty once in my life, for a beauty that was undeniably Godly. As our Sages tell us, most people don’t have the opportunity to even see such beauty. The fact that we have that opportunity is a blessing in itself.