Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 10 August 2019 / 9 Av 5779

Parshat Devarim

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
Library Library Kaddish

Written in the Stars

When the Jewish people was still but a thought in G-d’s mind, Avraham is told of the great nation that will emerge from him: “Look, please, heavenward, and count the stars, if you are able to count them…So shall your seed be.” And when the Jewish people are a fully formed nation, preparing to enter the Promised Land, Moshe opens his final address with words that echo this first prophecy: “G-d has multiplied you, and you are now like the stars of heaven in multitude.” The repeated comparison to the stars — prior to the birth of the first Jew and again as the entire nation prepares to set foot on the very land promised to Avraham — warrants some attention.

Just before this prophecy, Avraham was told that his seed would be like the dust of the earth — but there, the dust was not shown to him. But before his offspring are compared to the stars, Avraham is instructed to look heavenward and behold the stars. Avraham was seventy years old, and Sarah was sixty. He had all but given up hope to have a child in the natural course of events. From the vantage point of earth, his loss of hope was logical. Therefore, G-d bade him to look up toward heaven. There, in heaven, a different order is apparent — the great cosmos, created directly by G-d, beckoned Avraham to desist from his natural, earthbound speculation and instead open his mind to this starry world. So shall your offspring be! They will not be the product of natural conditions. Indeed, Avraham would wait another 30 years before Yitzchak is born. This people that would emanate from him would find their beginnings and their continued existence in a world beyond nature, and would depend directly on G-d’s Providence.

Now that the dream of the people of Avraham is a reality — in its full multitude of over three million souls — Moshe again reflects on the miracle of their existence.

But there is also an additional significance to this comparison. By comparing them to the hosts of heaven — each one proclaiming itself to be the Handiwork of the Creator — Moshe seeks to negate the erroneous notion that the people in its totality is just a numberless mass in which the individual has no importance. Rather, the people’s multitudes are like the stars of heaven: Although they are countless, there is independent significance to each individual. Each one is a “world until himself,” has his own value and is under G-d’s direct providence.

  • Sources: Commentary Devarim 1:10, Bereishet 15:5

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