Today, October 10, 2012, is the last day of "World Space Week." The heavens and the stars have always fascinated humankind. They are so distant, so vast and, as so eloquently pointed out by the Creator Himself, so seemingly infinite ("...Count the stars, if you be able to count them" - Genesis 15:5).
According to the Torah, the firmament of heaven was created on the second day of creation (Genesis 1:6-8), while the planets and stars (and all the other objects of outer-space) were created on the fourth day of creation: "And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth" (Genesis 1:16-17).
Although the word firmament implies a finite vault, the sages of the Talmud were well aware of just how vast the universe is. In Berachot 32b, the sage Reish Lakish describes God as stating:
"...twelve constellations have I created in the firmament, and for each constellation I have created thirty hosts, and for each host I have created thirty legions, and for each legion I have created thirty cohorts, and for each cohort I have created thirty brigades, and for each brigade I have created thirty camps*, and to each camp I have attached 365,000 of myriads of stars..."
Such numbers are breathtaking.
Despite the absence of telescopes or satellites, the sages well understood the vast distances of the universe: "Now from earth to heaven is a five hundred years journey, the thickness of heaven is a five hundred years journey, and between the first heaven and the next lies a five hundred year journey, and similarly between each heaven...[there being seven heavens]" (Pesachim 94b).
And while there is much to learn about this "final frontier," for humankind, space has, does and always will serve as a source of breathtaking inspiration.
*Hosts, legions, cohorts, brigade and camps are all ancient units of soldiers.
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