A Celebration of Freedom, Equality, Perseverance and Survival
On the first Seder night that will take place in space, I will eat matzah with all of you, perform a kiddush, and will even have a delicious traditional gefilte fish. After the meal, I will tell my friends about the essence of Passover, a major holiday in Judaism, and about the values and worldviews that the Seder tradition and the reading of the Haggadah have instilled.
These are the things I will read to my colleagues at the International Space Station on Passover eve:
Passover reflects some of the core values of both the Jewish people and the people of the world. Freedom of people, care of our fellows, the benevolence of the heart, respect for the heritage, and patience and understanding of a long journey with all its challenges and surprises. The Haggadah the people of Israel are reading on the eve of Passover, which we have passed down from one generation to the next, teaches us, in its own way, that no dream is beyond reach.
During the holiday, we recount the story of the exodus from Egypt. The exodus of the people of Israel ‘from slavery into freedom’ - a phrase we regularly use in Hebrew, reflects cultural, religious, and universal values. Freedom is both physical and spiritual. The freedom of humanity. What a tremendous value—one that has accompanied humanity since the dawn of mankind until this very day.
The Haggadah teaches us that each person, generation after generation, should “see themselves as if they themselves had left Egypt”. This phrase emphasizes the fact that the struggle for freedom is never-ending. It is an everyday struggle. It is the responsibility of every man and woman to be vigilant over their rights and freedom.
The younger generation will likely ask: How is it possible for us to regard ourselves as if we ourselves experienced an event that took place thousands of years ago?
The answer lies in the concept of our deliverance from “slavery”. Deliverance from “slavery” means that if you are a child who has knowingly joined a group that is bullying another child, just to be part of the “in crowd”, then you should muster the courage to break free from the group. To side with the bullied child, and empower your peers to turn away from the group and the “slavery” which binds you to it, despite the fact that you know the group is in the wrong.
But breaking free requires thought. And here, when the Israelites were already on their way out of Egypt and arrive in Canaan, God instructed Moses: “Speak unto the people of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth...”. Isn’t that strange? Why return to the place from which you were in such a rush to escape? This is exactly the point: the people of Israel are being asked to pause and think: Where am I headed? What lies ahead for me? This means we need, at all times, to act in critical thinking and aspire to the unattainable.
For what is slavery if not being chained to a familiar, well-known routine? Quite often we need to break from the patterns that have always seemed to make sense to us. Thanks to groundbreaking thinking, many important inventions have been developed, including the Dragon spacecraft, the International Space Station, the experiments, technological demonstrations, and educational and artistic activities of the Rakia Mission—all of which have been inspired by thoughts, which would previously have been perceived as irrational.
The Haggadah also teaches us to respect our heritage, as expressed in the phrase “And thou shalt speak it to your son” - instructing us each year, on the Seder night, to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. This is how we hand down the holiday tradition and the value of freedom to the next generation.
And then there’s also developing curiosity. On the Seder night, we encourage the next generation to pose questions, to ask “how is this night different from all other nights?” Just as we here, on the Rakia Mission, seek to spark curiosity in the future generations, to encourage them to ask questions and seek answers.
There is an inherent generosity in the phrase, “Let all those who are hungry partake, let all the needy come and celebrate with us.” It speaks of caring for our fellow man and giving to the most vulnerable members of society and to those in need.
Understanding the perseverance needed when embarking on a journey into the unknown, for an unknown period of time, reminds us of the story of the people of Israel, who wandered through the desert for forty years—a journey requiring extraordinary fortitude and mental strength.
These invaluable principles have come to be, and will always be, shared by the entire world. They are the source of hope for all those who are, or have ever been, enslaved – a hope to win their freedom. From these very principles, the greatest scientists, inventors, and artists have been inspired to think freely.
I would like to end with a quote that, which to my mind, connects to the story about the journey of the people of Israel:
In 1911, Constantine Cavafy wrote “The Road to Ithaca”:
as you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one
full of adventure, full of discovery….
But do not hurry the journey at all
Better if it lasts for years
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her, you would not have set out.
To everyone at home and to all my partners to this wonderful journey, to Rakia Mission, to my friends, and to my dear family: “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.”
The International Space Station
Passover 5782, April 2022