Jews Are Like Stars – Devarim 5779

D'var Torah | Deuteronomy

The earliest recorded mention of the refracting telescope was the 1608 patent registration of Hans Lippershey of the Netherlands. Galileo constructed his own model one year later. The actual inventor of the telescope is unknown but probably lived during the last quarter of the sixteenth century. It was in that window of time – 1584, to be precise – that Giardano Bruno postulated that stars like the sun were at the center of planetary systems. And in 1600 Johann Bayer was already producing star maps.


Rabbi Aaron Te’omim (ca.1630 – 1690) was not an astronomer but was very much aware of the principles and recent discoveries of astronomy. It is reflected in his principal work – a commentary on the Torah – called Matteh Aharon. Commenting on Deuteronomy 1:9 Rabbi Te’omim notes that each and every star represents a complete world: what we call a solar system. He further states – albeit mistakenly – that each star has its own orbit and rotation. But this error is inconsequential in comparison with the lesson he draws from the centrality of stars.


Moses complains to God that he is unable to manage alone the leadership of the people Israel: “I cannot bear the burden of you by myself” (Deuteronomy 1:9) since God has made the people “as numerous as the stars in the sky.” But it is not the numbers that makes the burden so great but the fact that each and every Israelite is like a star replete with planets and at the center of an entire system. Rabbi Te’omim does not use the word star in the sense of celebrity. He uses the word to signal egocentricity. Each Israelite believed himself or herself to be massively important thus making the governance of the whole body of Israel too difficult. The task was demanding because the people were demanding. Even with divine support and encouragement the task was virtually impossible.


Most remarkable is that despite the burden, Moses wishes for more! He prays that God “increase your numbers a thousand-fold” (Deuteronomy 1:10). Moses recognizes that that the people Israel are stars in the way that Rabbi Te’omim describes them but realizes that Jews are stars in the way we popularly use the term: outstanding talents who are shining lights in the universe. And in knowing we are stars, perhaps we can appreciate even more our mission to perfect the world under the kingship of God.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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