Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stars and Dust Forever - Vayeirah

The Jewish People are compared to stars and sand (Breishit 22:17.)

Some say that the stars represents us at our height and the sand represent us at our low. We have souls and are created in G-d’s image. On the other hand we are earthy beings with physical desires. The images of the stars and the sand serve to remind us of our duality. Great men have suggested carrying two cards in two pockets: one labeled “KEKOCHVEI HASHAMAYIM” and the other marked "KECHOL AL SFAT HAYAM.” They say that the secret is to know when to look at which piece of paper.

Another approach is that while both stars and sand convey one idea of a great number, there is a basic difference between them. The stars shine and stand alone. And while there may be too many to count, you can point to each star individually. On the other hand, grains of sand blend together. It is impossibly difficult to pick out a grain on its own. These are two aspects of being a Jew; we have a potential as part of a nation, also each of us needs to shine alone, our star.

The Kli Yakar (Shlomo Ephraim z"l of Lenshitz, died 1619) notes that there are not two but three similes used for what G-d will make Avraham’s descendants like: stars, sand (Breishit 22:17), and dust (Breishit 28:14). Each one of these conceptions represents a separate message.

The stars represent us in our prime. In Devarim 1:10 Moshe states that G-d increased us like the stars. Rashi comments that this refers to having made us great.

Although sand is often interpreted to represent us at our lowest, the dust actually better serves to symbolize us at our most dishonorable point. Sand really represents our survival against the nations. We endure like the sand, which breaks the waves when the oceans threaten to destroy the earth. As Dovid HaMelech describes, “all the billows (mishbarechah) and waves have passed over me” (Tehillim 42:8) – persecution threatens to destroy us, but like the tide against the shore, it hits us, breaks, and passes. And this is why when Yaakov meets with Eisav after it all, he chooses to evoke specifically the image of “the sand on the river bank.” That metaphor best fit the moment, representing our ability to break the blow of our oppressors.
(The Malbim, also interprets the sand as representing a protecting boundary against destructive forces. He notes that this image is employed in Yirmiyahu 5:22)

Dust represents us when we hit rock bottom. It is from that state that we rise up, call to G-d and return to super strength. This is what it states in Tehillim 44:26 – that we fall to dust and then cry to G-d. This is also what Yaakov was promised, that his descendants would become like dust but then regain power and spread to all corners of the earth.

We all have highs and lows, when we need to remember the other extreme. And we possess the resilience to break the forces that we sometimes fear will drown us. Wise words from Peter Himmelman put it this way:

These eyes do see
that you're nearly free
And if you hang on a little longer
you're going to see it too
Some days seem to drag on forever
you need all your strength
just to keep your head together
Soon you'll see things are going to get better at last
This too will pass

May we be blessed to remember our blessing, that we are like the stars and the dust and the sand.


Anonymous David Tzohar said...

For a funny rabbi this was a very well written and serious drasha. I'd like to point out that dust is not always a negative metaphor. Avraham said"veani afar vaefer" meaning that he is only human and unworthy of divine prophecy. This expresses humility, but in no way is it self-denigration. RaShaR Hirsch wrote that the root'AVK is related to the root ChBK, to embrace. While Man has the spark of Divine within, he must also embrace his earthly self. From dust were we created and to dust we will return.

October 24, 2010 at 2:23 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Good ha'arot. I'm very serious. On this site and my other site - parshapost I have pieces on every parshah. Glad you liked this one.

October 24, 2010 at 10:29 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home