16/17 July: Devarim : Shabbat comes in 8:56 pm, ends 10:11 pm
Parashat Devarim: The Stars and the Sand
In Sefer B’reishit (the Book of Genesis), when the Divine bestows blessings upon our father Avraham, God tells Avraham that his descendants will be ‘as numerous as the stars of the heavens and as the sands on the seashore’ (Gen. 22:17). Many commentators have wondered at these comparisons. Are they reiterations of the same great destiny? Or is there some difference between being like the stars of the heavens and being like the sands on the seashore?
Usually, when the two illustrations of our numerousness are compared, the stars are considered more positive than the sands. However, here at the beginning of Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy), Moshe uses the imagery of the stars to paint a less-than-positive picture (Deut. 1:9-10):
‘Thereupon I said to you: I cannot bear the burden of you by myself. The Eternal your God has multiplied you until you are today as numerous as the stars of the heavens.’
What is the difference, here, between being like stars and like sands? The stars are powerful and beautiful, but also distant from one another. The job of our teacher Moses is to keep us together and guide us through the wilderness, and it has been a difficult job indeed. It would have been better, perhaps, if we had been like the sands – if we had stuck to one another and presented less of a challenge to our leader.
Perhaps we are like the stars of the heavens today. Numerous and beautiful, but distant from one another. Our great challenge today is to close that distance emotionally and spiritually, even when we are not ready to close the distance physically. It is on us to prove that we can be like the sands on the seashore.