“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” These now-famous words were uttered on July 20, 1969 in front of millions of TV viewers and an estimated 450 million radio listeners worldwide, when US astronaut Neil Armstrong took man’s first footsteps on the moon. This was the culmination of an intense and heated decade-long race to the moon between the US and the Soviet Union; it ushered in a new era of space exploration, which had been mostly in the realm of science fiction up until that historic day. With the news of Armstrong’s passing this week, much has been written and spoken about him and his historic “walk,” and he goes down in the history books as a true American hero.
Although I have heard and read Armstrong’s famous quote many times, I was only recently struck by how profound that line is, perhaps even more so than he ever intended. When Armstrong was taking his historic first steps on the moon, he expressed that they were not just traversing a relatively short distance, but were symbolically a ”leap” for mankind, and he was certainly correct! These steps represented what was then the unthinkable –, to actually have the technology and scientific knowledge and resources to enable a person to walk on the moon. Quite an extraordinary leap, indeed!
In just a few short weeks we will be entering into High Holidays, starting with Rosh HaShanah, continuing into the 10 days of repentance, and concluding with Yom Kippur. Customarily, this is the season that we set aside for personal introspection, and when we commit to improving ourselves over the course of the coming year. We take stock of what we’ve done, perhaps what we should have done, and contemplate the actions that we should not have done at all. We are all human, and so we all have made mistakes and fail from time to time. But we have also been given the ultimate gift, teshuva, the ability to sincerely make amends. Although teshuva is always welcome, there is no better time of year for it than the upcoming time period of the High Holidays.
As opposed to many other things that seem too good to be true and, in fact, aren’t, teshuva is the real thing. It is a gift that Hashem has granted us. The only thing we have to do is take the first small steps. However, we must also realize that very often, it is those first small steps, when we attempt to step away from the mistakes of yesterday, where we encounter the most challenges. Our yetzer hara (evil inclination) mounts a fierce and persistent battle within us, attempting to prevent us from taking those first few small steps of teshuva. Why? Because once we take a few steps, even small ones, in the right direction, we are already well on the way to success. And there ends the battle. Will we be able to muster the strength, courage, and conviction to turn our lives around this year?
To borrow Neil Armstrong’s famous words, perhaps we can say that when embarking upon the teshuva process, we may indeed be taking small steps to change our ways in this world, but it is equally true that our small steps of genuine heartfelt repentance are giant leaps in the spiritual realms.
Wishing everyone a successful leap forward and a great Shabbos!