15 Jul 2021 Parshas Devarim: Like Stars and Sand
With this week’s parsha, Parshas Devarim, we begin the fifth and final book of Chumash, also known as Mishneh Torah. Mishneh Torah is the masterful and poetic ‘good bye letter’ (soliloquy) of Moshe Rabbeinu, to the nation which he has loved and led for forty years. As the nation stands poised to enter the Land, leaving Moshe behind on ever la’Yarden (the eastern side of the Jordan River), it is in Sefer Devarim that Moshe reminds the nation of their desert travels, the high and low moments they faced together, and of their responsibility to G-d, the Land and to each other.
Towards the very beginning of the parsha, the pasuk tells us that Moshe says: וָאֹמַ֣ר אֲלֵכֶ֔ם בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִ֖וא לֵאמֹ֑ר לֹא־אוּכַ֥ל לְבַדִּ֖י שְׂאֵ֥ת אֶתְכֶֽם, and I said to you at that time, saying, ‘I cannot carry you alone’. And why could Moshe not carry the nation alone? ה’ אֱלֹֽקֹיכֶ֖ם הִרְבָּ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֑ם וְהִנְּכֶ֣ם הַיּ֔וֹם כְּכֽוֹכְבֵ֥י הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם לָרֹֽב – Because Hashem, your G-d, has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as the stars of the heavens in abundance (Devarim 1:9-10).
Rashi (ibid) comments:
והנכם היום ככוכבי השמים. וְכִי כְכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם הָיוּ בְּאוֹתוֹ הַיּוֹם, וַהֲלֹא לֹא הָיוּ אֶלָּא שִׁשִּׁים רִבּוֹא, מַהוּ וְהִנְּכֶם הַיּוֹם? הִנְּכֶם מְשׁוּלִים כַּיּוֹם – קַיָּמִים לְעוֹלָם כַּחַמָּה וְכַלְּבָנָה וְכַכּוֹכָבִים – Were they like the stars of the heaven on that day? Were they not only six hundred thousand in number? What, then, is meant by ‘and behold, you are today’? It means: behold you are compared to the ‘day’, lasting eternally, like the sun, and like the moon and like the stars.
It is interesting and compelling to consider that while here Moshe compares the Bnei Yisrael to the abundance of stars, elsewhere in the Torah we find the Bnei Yisrael compared to the sand on the sea shore. In the aftermath of the Akeidas Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac), Avraham receives a Divine promise: כִּי–בָרֵךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ, וְהַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה אֶת–זַרְעֲךָ כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְכַחוֹל, אֲשֶׁר עַל–שְׂפַת הַיָּם; וְיִרַשׁ זַרְעֲךָ, אֵת שַׁעַר אֹיְבָיו – For I will surely bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore, and your descendants will inherit the cities of their enemies (Bereishis 22:17).
Why are we sometimes compared to the stars, and at other times compared to the sand?
Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover, a talmid of Rav Menachem Mendel of Shklov, who was a talmid of the Vilna Gaon, suggests a very beautiful answer as to why the Torah compares us to BOTH the stars and the sand. He suggests that “If all that was meant to be revealed was that our number will be great, then either of the comparisons would suffice. But that is not the case.
“The aspect of stars is that each possesses its own defined style of ohr, light or twinkle. As such, in the comparison to stars, the quality revealed is that Klal Yisrael is composed of individual members, each with their own tachlis (purpose) in revealing Hashem’s kavod (honor) in His world. Each member of our nation represents a star that must shine bright through the darkness of our world.
“But that doesn’t end the responsibility of an eved Hashem! His responsibility is to be part of the tzibbur, the entire sense of community that is Knesses Yisrael, and be similar to sand, which differs from the soil of the land, for it meshes together and scoops as a unit. Thus, Klal Yisrael is to be a composite, a unit consisting of shishim ribui, six hundred thousand souls, each projecting its own dimension of spiritual ohr into Hashem’s creation…
“A great person once said that Klal Yisrael is indeed the identity of a corporation, composed of the ultimate individual whose avodah in life is to reveal light within the totality of the ohr that all of Klal Yisrael projects to the world, for this represents the spiritual destiny of the nation that can never truly be counted” (Rabbi Ahron Rapps, “The Nation That Can’t Be Counted”. I am indebted to Esta Adelman for sharing this beautiful piece by Rabbi Rapps with me).
With this beautiful chiddush (novel Torah insight) we can understand why our nation is compared to both stars and sand. While each star shines brightly in its own right, and has intrinsic worth as it stands on it own, each grain of sand is only meaningful and purposeful when it joins together with other grains of sand.
So too, Am Yisrael. Our nation is made up of many individuals, each one important and valuable in his or her own right. Each individual has a task to accomplish in this world, each member shines in his or her own way, unique and distinguished from everyone and anyone else. Each person has a light that no one else has. In this way, we are compared to the stars.
However! Woe unto he who forgets that Am Yisrael is also compared to the sand of the sea. Just like one grain of sand is meaningless and utterly purposeless on its own, but only has worth and weight when it joins together with other grains of sand (think of sandbags which are filled with individual grains of sand working together to protect against the enemy), so too every member of Klal Yisrael. Our greatest strength comes forth when we join together, each individual clinging to another, to form the great klal that is our people.
What a powerful lesson and reminder this is for all of us as we mourn through these Nine Calamitous Days and prepare for The Day of Tragedy, Tisha B’Av. While each individual is very great, and very bright, when we stand alone and apart, no one person can bring the geula (the final and ultimate redemption). Only when we recognize our own worth (like stars) and then band together (like the sand of the sea), with unity and ahavas Yisrael, working as a klal for the betterment of all, will we – perhaps – merit the redemption, in our days and in our time.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,