December 21 marked the 50th anniversary of the first mission to the moon. Considering this milestone, and the technological developments that have happened since, Meir Soloveichik looks back on the contemporaneous reflections of his great-uncle, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik—one of the premier rabbinic thinkers of his day—and finds them more apt than ever:
The 20th-century quest to “slip the surly bonds of earth” was not, for Soloveitchik, a Promethean intrusion into the heavens; on the contrary, the conquest of space is the greatest manifestation of man’s being made in the Almighty’s image: “Man reaching for the distant stars is acting in harmony with his nature which was created, willed, and directed by his Maker.” Yet for all the biblical grandeur made manifest in the astronaut’s achievement, that reflects only half of our selves. . . .
Soloveitchik foresaw a danger facing the West. America’s celebration of its technological achievements during the space race might ultimately efface the other equally important aspect of human nature, a desire for communion with others: “There, [in the realm of human relationships], not only hands are joined, but experiences as well; there, one hears not only the rhythmic sound of the production line, but also the rhythmic beat of hearts starved for existential companionship and all-embracing sympathy,” A fierce anti-Communist, Soloveitchik no doubt rejoiced in the planting of the American flag on the moon; at the same time, he worried that the West’s focus on its technological achievements alone could lead to the amputation of the other aspect of its identity.
Indeed, we face today, as many have noted, an epidemic of loneliness. We live in an age of stunning technological transformation that has seemingly increased connectedness but helped decrease community. We can cross the entire earth in less than a day; our correspondence can cross the earth in an instant; and yet we have not found the fellowship that we need.