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Home » Vayera

Vayera: A Nation of Twinkling Stars

Submitted by on November 2, 2008 – 1:51 amNo Comment | 3,526 views

Flickering Flames

The first snow of the winter is always a delight, but not when it arrives in October.

Despondent over the nasty storm, I woke up that morning and ventured out into a street strewn with fallen trees and downed wires. Traffic lights were out of order and streets were slick with ice, but the real surprise came when I discovered our Shull was without electricity. Without lights we were hard pressed to hold morning services. A number of regular attendees arrived and shared my gloom; many left shortly thereafter to pray at home, but several stayed on. We lit candles, donned teffilin and sat down to pray.

As my gaze wandered about the room my spirits slowly lifted. I was enchanted by the quaint scene, the darkened synagogue, flickering flames and heads hunched over the candles reading in the dim light; it was a setting reminiscent of the shtetel.

A warmth spread through me because in the darkness I beheld the heartiness of the Jew. It was dark, cold and icy, the Synagogue was without heat or lights, yet nothing could stop these Jews from praying to their G-d. It was morning and despite the elements, despite the obstacles, these hearty Jews were at Shull. I realized that the Jew is indeed, as G-d promised to Abraham, like the stars of the sky.

Piercing the Darkness

The Ancient Greeks believed that a velvet like curtain spreads across the heavens at night to veil the light in the sky. They believed that the Gods unleash arrows every night to pierce the curtain and reveal little shafts of supernal light. (1)

We know these lights as the twinkling stars, but the Greek myth lends delightful perspective. Stars are sources of constant light. Even when the veil of darkness is drawn across the sky the stars continue to shine. We are treated to a glimpse of the star when its light pierces through the veil and comforts the night sky with its twinkling light. The stars shine all day, but they don’t attract our attention. When the world is awash in the sun’s greater light the little star is all but invisible. It is only at night, when darkness descends, that the little star displays it enduring strength. Its light might be small, but its illuminating power prevails over the night. (2)

Humanity also boasts proverbial stars. These are the strong souls, who undaunted by challenge, overcome their personal darkness. On a normal morning when the streets are dry and the lights are on many Jews attend the Synagogue.twinkling stars - innerstream  When raging storms and treacherous roads confine most of us to our homes the rocklike strength of those undaunted by challenge draws our attention. It is then that these shining stars drive away our gloom and impart in its stead inspiration and strength.

G-d’s Promise

This is indeed what G-d meant when he told Abraham to, “Gaze toward heaven and count the stars if you can count them.” And he said to him, “so (numerous) shall your children be.” (3) Science has yet to discover, let alone, count and identify every star. This is because they operate in the distant reaches of darkened galaxies and the naked eye cannot behold them all. (4) Yet, despite the darkness an occasional star does peek out at us from across the distance. It is for this reason that the stars are of so much comfort to us. We are drawn to them because their twinkling light beckons us; they remind us that every challenge can be surmounted, every distance can be traversed and every darkness can be illuminated.

Rather than an impediment to light, stars see the darkness as an opportunity to shine. Just like those Jews who prayed in the darkened synagogue, hunched over the dim and flickering light. These Jews are my stars; never daunted by challenge, never overwhelmed by the dark and never afraid of the night. These are the stars, who never allow an obstacle to get in the way of their commitment. These are the stars that inspire us in the night. These are the stars, in whose light we have no reason to fear the dark. (5)

It was not the candles that enlightened me that cold morning, but the bobbing heads above those candles. In them I saw the stars of which G-d spoke to Abraham.(6) (7)

Footnotes

    1. G-d Rationality and Mysticism, p. 105, by Dr. Irving Block, Marquette University Press, 2007.
    2. Stars only appear to be small due to their distance from earth, but are in fact quite large.
    3. Genesis 22:17.

 

    1. See commentary of Malbim, Rabbi Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, Russia 1809-1879, and Tiferet Yonatan, Yonasan Eibescutz, Prague, 1690-1764 on Genesis 15: 5, who note that just as one cannot count the stars so is it impossible to quantify the true value and power of the Jewish soul. See also commentary of Ktav Sofer who notes that just as each star has a unique and indispensable task to perform so is each Jew, regardless of surface spiritual value or lack thereof, a crucial part of the Jewish nation
    2. Li>Bamidbar Rabbah 2: 13, “Just as stars are out in force during the night, so does Israel display its strength in the night.”
    3. Li>See commentary of Samson Raphael Hirsh, Frankfurt, 1808-1888, on Genesis 15: 5. G-d asked Abraham to gaze heavenward because it is only in heaven that we see material objects created directly by G-d. Here on earth we see objects that are produced by objects created by G-d. Wheat sprouts from the earth, houses are made of trees and poems are written by man. Objects created directly by G-d are enduring, whereas objects made indirectly by G-d are not. G-d wanted Abraham to understand that the Jew would survive all his travails because the Jewish destiny, like that of the heavenly bodies, was created directly by G-d.
    4. Li>This essay is based in part on commentary from Kli Yakar, R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz, 1550-1619, on Genesis 20: 17

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