SALT - Thursday, 11 Cheshvan 5781 - October 29, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Lekh-Lekha of God’s promise to Avraham that he would beget a large nation, despite his and Sara’s current inability to produce children.  In response to Avraham’s lament, “But You have not given me offspring” (15:3), God brought him outdoors and instructed him, “Look, if you will, to the sky, and count the stars, if you can count them” (15:5).  He then said, “Such shall be your offspring.”
 
            The simple meaning of this verse is that God promised Avraham that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.  Having despaired from ever begetting children, God assured him that he would not only produce offspring, but would become the father of a nation as numerous as the stars.
 
            Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, however, offers a different interpretation, suggesting that God draws Avraham’s attention not simply to the infinite number of stars, but to the nature of the heavenly sphere.  Rav Hirsch writes:
 
On earth one no longer sees any direct creation of God.  Everything that we see on earth is a product of something else already created, does not come directly from the Hand of God, but follows the natural laws of production.  Within these earthly conditions where every effect comes from its given cause, Abraham is quite right, all promises are lacking to give rise for hopes of the blessing of children.  Then God directs his sight up to the heavens.  There things are different, what one sees there are bodies, creations which have been called into existence directly by God, in their pristine state just as they were when placed there by God at the creation… So that if somebody is to be made to visualize an existence brought about by the immediate direct power of God’s Almightiness, he can only be shown the stars… These…creations direct from the Creator are more numerous than those produced indirectly on the limited space of earth…
 
God showed Avraham not just the infinite number of stars – but that these innumerable creations are His direct handiwork, and did not evolve from the natural progression that characterizes our earthly sphere.  Here on earth, we see products of the natural order, not direct creations of God.  Rav Hirsch explains that God informs Avraham that his descendants, the Nation of Israel, will be “a second Creation,” produced directly from the Almighty, like the stars, outside the confines of our earthly existence.
 
            Rav Hirsch applies this concept to explain a series of verses in Tehillim (147:2-5) which we recite each morning as part of the Pesukei De-zimra service: “The Lord builds Jerusalem; He gathers the exiles of Israel.  He cures the brokenhearted and bandages their sorrow.  He counts the number of the stars, giving names to them all.  Our Lord is great and abundant in strength; His wisdom is incalculable.”  The Psalmist here compares the redemption of Israel, the curing of our broken hearts, and the counting of the stars, stating that God accomplishes all these.  Rav Hirsch explains:
 
However wretched and improbable the nidchei Yisrael [exiles of Israel] have become, they still depend directly and individually, like each star, on the word of God.  Each individual Jew, however wretched his conditions may be, as long as he remains a Jew, he is under the personal hashgacha peratit [direct providence] “Who calleth him by name.”
 
Just as the birth of a son to Avraham and Sara occurred like the “stars,” through the direct action of God, circumventing, as it were, the natural order, so must we trust in God’s unlimited ability to cure the “brokenhearted.”  We must never despair during times of hardship, and should instead remember that just as God “counts the number of the stars,” He is capable of directly intervening to help us and care for us in ways which we could not imagine, no matter how hopeless the situation appears.