24/25 July: Devarim :Shabbat comes in 8:47 pm, ends 9:58 pm
Parashat Devarim: The Stars and the Sand
In Sefer Bereishit (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.
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman