Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Out of this World
It is obvious from the Torah, and from life experience in general, that human beings are not the only conscious, thinking beings on the planet. The Torah shows great concern for the feelings of animals, with calls to understand the nature of animals and have compassion upon them by feeding them before we feed ourselves, and also by not forcing animals of various types to work together. However, are living beings on this planet the only conscious entities in the universe?
Malachim (angels) are spoken of in the Torah and elsewhere in Jewish writing as having an awareness of the happenings in various spheres of existence. This includes both our level of physical existence, as well as planes beyond our limited human comprehension. In this way, then malachim (angels in the real Jewish understanding, not in the Western idea of beings with wings that hop around) are superconscious. The Rambam, as well as other Jewish sages, writes that heavenly bodies (including stars and planets) also have a form of consciousness.
When dealing with the issue of conscious life on planets other than Earth, it is completely incorrect to assert that there is “no Biblical support for life outside of our own planet.” The fact is that the Torah does give support to the idea of extraterrestrial life. In Sefer Shoftim (Judges 5:20-23), Devorah HaNeviah (Deborah) speaks about particular stars and planets, and the life on the stars and planets, and the assistance they gave to the Israelites. Specifically named is Meroz, which the Talmud says is a star, and it is stated in the text itself that this star has inhabitants (“Cursed be Meroz, cursed! And cursed be its inhabitants.”). While there is no specific discussion regarding what form the inhabitants take, and how exactly their role in the world, consciousness of locations outside of their home, and countless other questions work, it is clear that to believe in life outside of Earth is not a non-Biblical idea.
In more recent years, a scientist involved in a space research program that attempted to find life on other planets in our solar system asked the Lubavitcher rebbe zt”l whether or not looking for life on other planets was appropriate. The rebbe responded that he should continue to look for life outside of our planet, because to sit and say that there is no life other than life on Earth would be to put limitations on G-d, and that is something that is completely forbidden for creations to do.