We Are All Stars (Parasha Va-Yera)


In this week’s parsha, Abraham receives a blessing from G-d promising to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in heaven and the sands of the seashore. Earlier in the Torah G-d promises to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. Why are the Jewish people compared to dust, to sand and to stars? 


According to the midrash, just as the sand and dust covers the entire earth, so will the Jewish people be spread over the entire world; just as dust and sand are trampled upon, so will the Jewish people be trampled upon; just as the dust and the sand endure, so will the Jewish people endure; just as dust needs water to grow vegetation, so will the Jewish people be blessed with Torah, which is likened to water, to grow in wisdom.  


The comparison of Abraham’s descendants to dust and sand also relates to our collective mission. No one particle of dust or sand is important in and of itself. The loss of a grain of sand from a seashore or a particle of dust from the earth is not even missed. But together, sand forms a shore which puts a limit to the ocean and dust forms the earth upon which we can stand. So too the Jewish people are a covenant people with a collective mission. 


Thus, together, as a people at Sinai, we entered into an agreement, a pledge with G-d. We would be G-d’s people, follow G-d’s laws, strive to be a holy people that would bring the moral and ethical teachings of G-d to the world. In return, G-d would be our sovereign and protect us. We would be the “eternal people” a people reflecting  the eternity of G-d. Comparing the descendants of Abraham and Sarah to “the dust of the earth” or “the sands of the seashore” suggests a permanence, a staying power, that is particular to the Jewish people. As the prophet Isaiah (54:10)  assures the Jewish people,

For the mountains may move

And the hills be shaken

But [G-d’s] loyalty shall never move from you,

Nor [God’s] covenant of friendship be shaken. 


In return for this enduring friendship, our collective mission, one that could only be accomplished by a people with a common language, a singular religion and a shared destiny, was to be, in the words of Isaiah, “a light unto the nations”. Our ancestors at Sinai not only obligated themselves to this covenant, this pact, this agreement between the Nation of Israel and her sovereign, but obligated all future generations of Jews to abide by this covenant as well. 


Thus, when the Jewish people is likened to the sands of the seashore or the dust on the earth, the Torah is speaking of the collective, not the individual. One grain of sand is like any other grain of sand, one particle of dust like any other. Our personal identities are absorbed by the collective. But we are also compared to “the stars of the sky”. The Psalmist writes, “G-d counts the stars and gives each one a name.” In giving each star a name, G-d is singling out each and every star, naming it according, we would suppose, to its individual characteristics. Furthermore, in our Shabbat morning prayer, El Adon it says,


Good are the lights that G-d has created

Fashioning them with insight and knowledge,,,,,,

Abounding in splendor, radiating brilliance

Their splendor adorns the universe

Rejoicing in rising, gladly setting

Rushing to obey their Creator’s will.


No one would write about dust and sand like that! The poet who wrote this prayer understands the stars to be endowed with their own kind of intelligence and radiance. They experience joy when they come out at night and go in at day, in accordance with G-d’s will. The sand of the beach and the dust of the earth are collective entities with no individuality, The stars, on the other hand, sparkle with individuality. 


We Jews are more than just members of a group. We are not only “like the dust of the earth”. We are also like the stars of the sky, individuals, each with our own talents, each with our own splendor. We are each encouraged to shine, to be a star, each in our own way. Just as the Jewish people as a whole have a mission, so each individual has a special mission in this world. This is the meaning of the prominence of “stars” in the promise to Abraham.

Shabbat Shalom

Photo by Klemen Vrankar on Unsplash