The highest-level mitzvah or good-deed in Judaism is Tikkun Olam: repairing the world and making it a better place. The performance of mitzvahs is believed to hasten the coming of the Messiah. The Messianic Age is characterized by the inspiring prophecy in the Book of Isaiah (2:4):
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
“And at that time there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or rivalry. For the good will be plentiful, and all delicacies available as dust… the people of Israel will be of great wisdom; they will perceive the esoteric truths…”
On the night of October 6–7, 2023, thousands of young people were partying until dawn in the so-called “Supernova music festival”, advertised as “a journey of unity and love” with “mind blowing and breathtaking content”, just hours after the end of Israel’s Sukkot Jewish festival. The festival’s location “stunning for its beauty” was only announced a few hours before: Kibbutz Re’im, 3 miles from the Gaza border. The Hebrew word “Re’im” means friends.
In astronomy, a supernova is an exploding star, enriching its environment at the end of its life with the elements it fused at its core throughout its evolution. This defines how I wish to spend the remainder of my scientific life, enriching the world with the wisdom I have gained.
As the Sun rose on Saturday, the party was still in full swing when several small black dots appeared on the horizon of the music festival. As the dots came closer, it became clear they were motorized paragliders approaching from the direction of Gaza. The beat of the music became confused with gunfire as Palestinian militants stormed the festival. A siren went off, warning of incoming rockets, followed by gunshots. In panic, people tried to flee, but there were vehicles full of gunmen shooting everywhere. A young festival attendee, Gili Yoskovich, said she hid under a fruit tree, playing dead for three hours to dodge the gunfire and killings. “I saw people were dying all around. I was very quiet. I didn’t cry, I didn’t do anything,” she told the BBC. “I was … breathing, saying: ‘OK, I’m going to die. It’s OK, just breathe, just close your eyes.’” Her name, Gil, means joy in Hebrew, expressing the hope of her parents when she was born that she will have a joyful life.
Late on Sunday, the Israeli rescue service Zaka said it had retrieved hundreds of bodies from the music festival site. Photographs and videos showed burnt out cars and bodies on the ground. The Israeli authorities said about 260 people had been killed and many were still missing.
By now, I was asked by dozens of people whether my family is fine and how do I feel about the total of 900 Israeli civilians who were murdered in addition to the nearly 2,400 who were wounded by the attack from Gaza.
My hope is that this tragedy will lead to a political resolution akin to the peace treaty with Egypt after the 1973 war, which was also initiated on a Jewish high holiday, that of Yom-Kippur, exactly 50 years ago.
During those same 50 years, humanity launched 5 probes to Interstellar space: Voyager 1, Voyager 2, Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11 and New Horizons. If we were to follow the peaceful Messianic vision and dedicated the 2 trillion dollars a year of worldwide military budgets to the exploration of interstellar space, we could have already sent billions of interstellar probes by now for the same cost. An advanced alien civilization watching Earth must conclude that humans are not intelligent enough, because they launched only five rather than billions of technological gadgets out of planet Earth towards interstellar space.
How can we hasten the Messianic Age of peace and prosperity in place of the age of hateful killings? Certainly not through the letter from a coalition of 34 Harvard students organizations who said they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” In an email to students on Sunday, the dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Bridget Terry Long, told students she was writing to “express my concerns in the aftermath of the deadly attacks in Israel and the Gaza strip where it has been reported that more than 1,100 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded by the actions taken by Hamas and the Israeli government.”
Harvard University became my second home for thirty years, the second half of my life after growing up in Israel. When I see these dual-blame sentiments after a horrific attack on young people who celebrate “unity and love”, I can only think of a new interpretation to Enrico Fermi’s question: “Where is everybody?”
`Where is everybody?’ indeed. They killed each other on exoplanets that eventually were dried up by their brightening host star at the end of its evolution. They rarely looked up. They blamed the other side and maintained their misery.
Given these sad thoughts, what is my hope for repairing the world?
It involves the urgent search for a package in our backyard that originated from a more advanced civilization. As I said in the Bergamo Science Festival in Italy on October 8, 2023 in response to a question from a brilliant young person in an audience of 500 people: “Humanity needs a better role model. As a practicing scientist, I am searching for an inspiring Messianic message, delivered in a bottle through the ocean of interstellar space from a more intelligent civilization that survived the danger of self-extinction and can teach us how to do better.”
Let us translate the horror of the Supernova music festival to the promise of the Bergamo Science Festival. And may the memory of those who lost their life in the music festival be blessed through our practice of science. Imagine everyone replacing childlike hatred and bullying by childlike curiosity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project, and is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, was published in August 2023.