Rabbi Gershon Avtzon

Every time a family moves, it takes time to adjust to the new surroundings. As one can imagine, it was a big adjustment for me – and for my wife – to move from bustling Brooklyn, New York, to Cincinnati, Ohio. 

The pace of these two cities is a study in contrasts: we transitioned from a life where people are always in a rush in “the city that never sleeps,” to living in a city that does go to sleep at night – a community where people wait to greet you on the street. The Jewish culture is obviously so different, as well: in the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up, Crown Heights, there is a shul and a kosher eatery on nearly every block; in Cincinnati, we pride ourselves in having one New York-style kosher bagel shop. Over the last 13 years, with five wonderful children born here, Cincinnati has become our home. 

You get an appreciation for your city and state when you learn about the history and the lives of the amazing citizens there. One such person, who lived in Cincinnati for many years, was the great astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930–2012). Mr. Armstrong – who was born and raised in Wapakoneta, Ohio, and received his pilot license before his driver’s license – was the first man to set foot on the moon. He was later a professor for many years at the University of Cincinnati.

Who is not enamored of space travel? Seeing the iconic NASA launches and watching astronauts floating in outer space, our dreams of endless possibilities are opened up and reinforced within us. Space travel allows us to appreciate more deeply the majesty of the creations of G-d Almighty. Our hearts break when things don’t go well; for example, the death of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. 

Yet, not many people actually take the time to study the preparations astronauts make for each journey. It takes hours of intense training and detailed exercises, even requiring a special diet. The astronaut constantly recognizes the uniqueness of their mission, also remaining aware of the intense research and cost associated with this mission. With this in mind even in the training phase, astronauts pay great attention to all the details they are taught. They all want their mission, and the research and expenditures supporting their mission, to succeed. 

While recently studying the strict regimen and diet astronauts follow, I became aware of parallels to the value of a kosher diet. If we perceive ourselves as a people on a mission from our Creator to explore and bring light to this physical world through our acts of goodness and kindness, we begin to better understand and appreciate our Creator’s seemingly strict rules and special diet as part of the success of that mission.

G-d Almighty Himself has invested heavily in our mission. While it might have been more spiritually appealing to merely create spiritual worlds, filled with spiritual angels, He created this physical world, which conceals His greatness and, often, His very identity.

Looking from “His” perspective, it is our physical world that is truly “outer space.” He then chose to send a group of “space explorers” to this seemingly spiritually forsaken earth, with a unique mission to bring an awareness of the true reality. He provided an “Astronaut’s Instruction Manual,” i.e., the Torah, to allow us to strive and thrive in this world, which is void of spiritual gravity and oxygen.

One of the greatest gifts and tools of survival is the gift of “keeping kosher.” It is not just a cuisine or another style of food preparation and consumption; rather, it is intended as the specially designed diet for the Jewish “astronaut.” While there are many laws explaining what makes a specific food kosher – beyond the scope of this column – suffice it to say that today, kosher food is available everywhere. It is not just in the “kosher aisles” in your local supermarket; rather, there are thousands of items that are certified kosher. We just need to look for the small and trusted kosher symbols and we can be assured that the product we are eating conforms to our special diet. We want our mission to be a success.

Every time we eat a morsel of kosher food, we should know, as Neil Armstrong famously said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!”

Shall we begin the countdown to our launch?

Shabbat Shalom!


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