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John Glenn of blessed memory and a Stone for Jacob’s Head

John Glenn of blessed memory and a Stone for Jacob’s Head

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An era has finally come to a screeching halt. Perhaps one of the greatest Americans of this time has left this world, not to return again. Two hundred years ago, the first Chabad Rebbe said you have to live with the times. This was well before the New York Times went to print. He was referring to the Torah portion of the week that provides guidance, insight, and an applicable lesson that is relevant to our daily lives. Given to us 3,328 years ago, how could the Torah possibly relate to the passing of an American Hero of the Space Age?


The Torah tells of our ancestor, Jacob, who was running for his life. His brother was consumed with jealousy and wanted Jacob dead. As the sun set and Jacob was alone on the dark mountainside of Temple Mount, he arranged a pillow of stones and rested his head to dream divine visions. When the sun rose, Jacob found the stones had miraculously merged into one. The Midrash explains that each of the twelve stones were envious of the rock directly beneath Jacob’s head. And so the stones joined into one big stone so that their quarreling would cease. The Rebbe asks if anything was really accomplished with the merge — did the envy subside? Jacob’s head could still lay upon only one part of the stone. The Rebbe answers that the individual stones were no longer bothered by their individual positions — they were now finally one. They understood that if you and I are one, then your triumph is my pride. My success is yours. Divisiveness breeds envy but unity forges tolerance. Our accomplishments become all of our victories.


When John Glenn broke the transcontinental flight speed record before becoming the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962 and, 36 years later at age 77 in 1998, become the oldest man in space, he didn’t do it as a private individual. He did it as a representative of the men, women and children of America. It was not John from Cambridge ,Ohio just going on an exciting trip. Rather, it was America’s answer to a world rivalry in the space race. Glenn ceased to be a private citizen and became an American symbol. While the journey stirred deep feelings for Glenn and he yearned a return to space, President John F. Kennedy vetoed a second trip. Glenn was too precious of a figure for our nation should anything go awry. Now, with his permanent departure from the earth this week, a part of all Americans has been lost.


Just like John Glenn symbolically unified us all into one America, a marriage unifies two people into one. If a husband has an accomplishment or a wife has a triumph, does it really make a difference who can claim the success? If we are one stone, it doesn’t matter which part of the stone has Jacob’s head leaning on it.

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