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The Value of a Detail

Friday, 2 September, 2016 - 4:01 pm

 Mariner 1.jpgIn 1962 the American  Mariner Program  sent its first spacecraft out on a mission to do a planetary flyby of Venus . It cost $18.5 million, a huge sum at the time, and was launched aboard an Atlas-Agena the rocket responded improperly to commands from the  guidance systems on the ground, setting the stage for an apparent software-related guidance system failure and it was ordered to do a destructive abort 294.5 seconds after launch.

Why did it fail?

One of the main reasons for the failure was that there was an error in a hand-transcription of a mathematical symbol in the guidance system, in particular a missing overbar The error had occurred when a symbol was being transcribed by hand in the specification for the guidance program. The writer missed the superscript bar which caused the computer to misread the instructions and sent the rocket dangerously off course.

At the time it was billed as one of the most expensive one line mistakes.

To an untrained eye or to someone who is not an expert in the field, what was the big deal with missing the superscript bar? But in terms of the actual results, it made all the difference between failure and success of a huge mission.

In this week’s Torah Portion, Moses is having a conversation with the Jews in the last week of his life and he is encouraging them to keep G-d’s commandments. Yet when he gives this commandment he uses an interesting word to say “because you keep the commandments” and he uses the Hebrew word “Ekev”, a word not normally used to say “because”.

The commentaries explain, that this word is used as it also means “heel” and Moses was seeking to encourage them not only regarding keeping the big commandments and ideas, but also in regards to keeping the commandments and details which we might ordinarily “trample on with our heel” and not treat as being important.  

It is a natural tendency to go for the big things and big ideas, and leave the smaller ideas and details out. But Moses was telling them that in the Divine plan, every superscript bar has a purpose, no instruction and no opportunity in life is ever redundant or insignificant in its potential. In fact, no matter how great our finite minds may be, we need to remember that we do not always see the whole picture of G-d’s master plan in creation and our role in it.

Just like the Mariner, we too have been given a mission and a purpose in this world. Huge investments have been placed in us being here today and ready not just to flyby’s but to actually make the difference in the world that we have been tasked with. Our job is to follow the script and get the job done, and also to make sure we treat the details of the mission with as much importance as the big details. You never know, which detail will be the enabler of something huge or the key in a code that will cause the mission to be the success that it needs to be.

Good Shabbos & Shabbat Shalom



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