April 2016 scroll article

Over the last few weeks I have been rereading the novel
The Martian by Andy Weir. 

Set in the near future, The Martian imagines the experience of an astronaut stranded on Mars when a storm and a freak accident force his crewmates to leave without him. As the story unfolds, we witness Mark Watney fighting to survive, and NASA and the rest of his crew working to rescue him.  While I read The Martian for the first time in the winter, I have been rereading it now, in the spring with one of my children.  At the end I discovered a few paragraphs that pull together the values of the story. In this year of politics which has been filled with angst, demonization, demagoguery, and tension; we arrive in this season of Passover with it’s story of redemption from oppression and slavery.  I want to share this piece of The Martian with you.
Just after his rescue, Mark Watney says:  “I think about the sheer number of people who pulled together just to save my sorry **[tush], and I can barely comprehend it.  My crewmates sacrificed a year of their lives to come back for me.  Countless people at NASA worked day and night to invent rover and MAV (Spacecraft) modifications.  All of JPL busted their **[tushies] to make a probe that was destroyed on launch.  Then, instead of giving up, they made another probe to resupply Hermes (a different spacecraft).  The China National Space Administration abandoned a project they’d worked on for years just to provide a booster.  The cost of my survival must have been hundreds of millions of dollars. All to save one dorky botanitst.  Why bother?  Well, okay.  I know the answer to that.  Part of it might be what I represent: Progress, science, and the interplanetary future we’ve dreamed of for centuries.  But, really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out.  It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.
If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search.  If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies.  This is so fundamentally human, that it’s found in every culture without exception.  Yes, there are **[grouchy people] who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by people who do.  And because of that, I had billions of people on my side.  Pretty cool, eh?
The Martian page 368
In this season, in this year, I know I need these words, and I hope they resonate with you as well.  It is a work of fiction, but Andy Weir captures the values that we talk about on our holidays and in our sacred stories: 
Pikuach nefesh-  If you save/sustain one life, it is as if we save an entire world.  Al Tifrosh min hatzibur -don’t separate yourself from the wider community.  That all humans are made B’tzelem Elohim – in the image of G!d, deserving our care and concern.   We have to take care of
the widow, the stranger and the orphan for Avadim Hayinu, we were slaves in the land of Egypt.  If G!d rescued us in our times of tsuris, shouldn’t we work to care for other humans/creatures of G!d?   These are the values of Judaism that come out so loud and clear in so many texts and times. As we read these words from The Martian, and our corresponding values, we can be like any of the four children of Passover: We can dismiss or ignore, be afraid to ask or assume.  I hope instead that you will be wise and reflective.  Positive messages and positive people are all around.  When we choose to help and support, offer solutions and compassion we increase that light and love, banishing the **[grouchy people] who don’t care and are more focused on tearing down and hurting.  Let this be our direction as we pass through this season, I hope like our ancestors at the Shores of the Sea, feeling free, powerful and at peace.

Chag Sameach
Rabbi Michael Birnholz

**[words of The Martian have been changed to be “Scroll” appropriate]