December 21, 1968/30 Kislev 5729 was the day on which the world held its breath as American astronauts set out for the moon. On this day, Apollo 8, with its three member crew, was launched and soon became the first manned spacecraft to successfully orbit the moon and return to earth.

Some ancient cultures once believed the moon to be a god (a form of idol worship). Judaism has its own traditions about the moon. According to the Talmud Chullin 60b, both the sun and moon were created the same size. However, the moon questioned God, asking how two great luminaries could rule the sky side-by-side, so God diminished its size. The moon’s new role was to mark time, waxing and waning through the course of the month.

The Apollo 8 astronauts, as the first humans to see the far side of the moon, might have seen themselves as bold pioneers, deserving of superior status. Yet history tells us that, rather than boasting of their triumph, William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman read the first ten verses of Genesis (“In the beginning…”) to those listening back on earth.

The three astronauts recognized that, incredible as their accomplishment was, they were only a reflection of the brilliance of God. And while none of the astronauts were Jewish, their actions were in effect a true kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name.