I’ve been captivated ever since NASA released the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope. It is beyond the ability of my mind to comprehend the scale of time and space captured in the breathtaking pictures of galaxies as they looked 13.1 billion years ago. As astronomers explain, every dot in the image is a galaxy: “For a sense of scale, if you could hold a grain of sand at arm’s length up to the sky, that speck is the size of the view. It is one minuscule sliver of our universe, filled with thousands of galaxies, each with billions or trillions of star systems in each of those with its own planets.” I am awestruck at this primordial light carried through billions of years of creation.
My coworker is a geophysicist, accustomed to geologic time and the invisible forces of our universe. I sit in his office and nihilistically bemoan - We are so small and our time here is so short, what difference do we make? We’re nothing! He gently redirects: We are small, but this is everything so we must give it all we’ve got. His response echoes the midrash of the Chasidic rebbe who believes an individual should keep two slips of paper in either pocket. In one pocket, the slip of paper says, “I am but dust and ashes;” the other, “The universe was created just for me.”
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the day the world was created, the photos from the Webb Telescope will be my shofar. Let these images of divine creation shake us from our complacency, reminding us that being is unbelievable. This new look at our spectacular and mysterious universe should inspire us to take nothing for granted. “Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually,” says Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. During these Days of Awe, join me in renewing our commitment to honor the miracle of creation by living lives of wonder and humility.