By Simon Jacobson
The current news raging about the strong possibility of life
on Mars has provoked discussion in all circles. The religious
implications of the prospect of extraterrestrial life are
But while we ponder this phenomenon and its many ramifications,
there arises an intriguing question: Are there any references
in ancient wisdoms and sacred texts to life on other planets?
Perhaps more importantly: Is the search for extraterrestrial
life just an exercise in curiosity, or is it important to
our lives as human beings on this Earth?
It may seem surprising, but on one rare occasion the Grand
Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a foremost
religious authority and visionary of our times, discussed
this issue in detail.
The Rebbe was known for both his intense knowledge of Bible
and Talmud and his secular scholarship having graduated Berlin
University and the Sorbonne with advanced degrees in the sciences.
He often addressed timely events and scientific developments,
and in his unique style would explain the personal and practical
applications of any given issue.
In the summer of 1969, after the second landing on the moon,
the Rebbe addressed the topic of extraterrestrial life. Citing
his fundamental belief that the Torah -- the Bible -- is the
spiritual blueprint of the universe, the Rebbe explained that
delving into the Bible can yield allusions or even direct
references to scientific discoveries. After all, science,
essentially, uncovers the divine secrets of nature that have
lain hidden in existence from the beginning of time.
In the case of extraterrestrial life the Bible clearly refers
to its possibility, and even to its actuality. In the book
of Judges, chapter 5, the prophetess Devora sings a song of
praise to God for helping Barak win his battle against his
enemy Sisera. In verse 20 she sings: "The stars in their
course fought against Sisera." And then in verse 23 she
continues: "Curse Meroz, said the angel of the Lord,
curse bitterly its inhabitants, because they did not come
to the help of the Lord...against the mighty men."
And who is this Meroz? According to one opinion in the Talmud
-- the authoritative oral interpretation of the Biblical texts
-- Meroz is a planet (tractate Moed Katan 16a). Accordingly,
the "inhabitants" of "Meroz" indicates
life on another planet.
The context in which the reference to Meroz is found compels
the Talmud to define it as a planet (and not as a neighboring
city), as it is preceded by the verse that states "the
stars in their course fought against Sisera." Thus, it
follows that Meroz refers to a celestial body whose inhabitants
did not come to Baraks aid.
Another issue Rabbi Schneerson addressed was the personal
implications should extraterrestrial life be found. In keeping
with his message that we must utilize any new discoveries
for constructive personal growth, the Rebbe applied this to
the search for other life. He predicted that if any extraterrestrial
life forms are discovered, they will be life forms other than
human. This is based on the Biblical belief that human life,
empowered with the ability to choose between good and evil,
was bestowed exclusively upon Adam and Eve on Earth. All other
creatures follow a "program" inherent in their natural
makeup; the laws of nature that (when untouched by human hands)
maintain a natural balance. The human race is unique in that
it was given free will and given the Torah, Gods word
and law, by which to know right from wrong. Indeed, Rabbi
Schneerson went on to explain that the human being is the
"center" of creation, not necessarily in a spatial
sense, but qualitatively: Man has the power to dominate and
influence the course of nature, either constructively or destructively.
Thus, any discovery of extraterrestrial life only intensifies
our responsibility to protect, refine and elevate the entire
universe in all its elements -- mineral, vegetable and animal
-- and transform them to channels of divine energy by utilizing
them for living better and more virtuous lives.
Each person, the Rebbe elaborated, is a microcosm of the
entire universe and all its myriad details. Man is a small
universe; the universe is a large organism. We are interlinked
and interdependent with the world in which we live. And the
world is uplifted through our own personal refinement. The
larger the magnitude of the cosmos and galaxies, the greater
are the opportunities in understanding ourselves. As we pursue
the perpetual human quest toward the unknown -- and the new,
exciting discoveries that unfold along the way -- the more
we are struck by the sheer awe of existence and of the Divine
wisdom driving this grand design. And the more this underscores
the power entrusted in us: to sanctify the world in which
we live -- integrating inner and outer space.
Clearly, humankind will continue to search for other life
in the galaxies. It seems that intrinsic to human nature is
the innate, compelling drive to know what other life exists
besides our own. The Lubavitcher Rebbes talk in the
summer of 69 asks of us to recognize a deeper significance
in this never-ending search: How this search -- which stretches
back to Biblical times -- should evoke in each of us a greater
sensitivity and commitment to life all around us, near and