Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Stars in the Sky    

 

G-d promises Abraham that his descendants will “as numerous as the sands of the sea, and the stars of the heaven.” But when Moses predicts the future of the Jewish people, he does not say that we will be as numerous as the sands of the sea. Instead, he tells us, three times, only that we will be “as numerous as the stars in the sky.”

Why? How did we lose the much larger (at least to the naked eye) quantity predicted to Abraham? What changed?

The answer is that nothing changed: sometimes we forget that Abraham had many descendants besides Isaac. He had Ishmael with Hagar and with his second wife, Keturah, he fathered six more: Zimram, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. These he sent away toward the East, where they became nations in their own right. It was those descendants who became numerically enormous, populating the world. They became as numerous as the sands of the sea, which is to say, countless.

But the Jews, under Isaac, were never quantitatively large. Our numbers have never formed the majority population anywhere in the world save for within Israel.

The word used for “numerous” in the Torah (“rav”) also can be understood qualitatively, as in “great” or “important.” (See Gen 6:5) Indeed, it is the same word in Hebrew as “Rabbi,” denoting someone of influence and import, a teacher.

When Moses tells us that the Jewish people will be “as great as the stars in the sky,” he is making an aspirational statement: like stars, we are supposed to be lights unto the world. We are meant to achieve and represents spiritual heights, to always be a directional guide to mankind. Moses’ prediction is thus not a descriptor, but a prescriptor: it is our job to aspire to be holy, to become guiding lights, to show how human animals can become holy.

Thus G-d fulfills Avraham’s blessing: his descendants become numerous as well as influential – but not necessarily through the same sons! And when Moses says that the Jewish people are not the most populous or large of nations but also compares us to the stars, he is making the point that influence and power are often unyoked from each other. Our task is to ignore the power of numbers: we are instead to aspire to be a holy nation.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Given how long ago Abraham lived, and given that there has been considerable exogamy, I would bet there are a lot more descendants through Isaac than you are counting. When one watches DNA reveal videos, one sees a whole lot of people have a few percent Ashkenazim heritage. The diaspora also went to places like Ethiopia and even China, spreading the heritage further. It only takes that one person about a thousand years ago in each population to spread the genes around.

    Of course, that’s not really your point.

    • #1
    • August 2, 2020, at 2:41 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I appreciate that we have so many ways to be that “holy nation,” whether it’s helping a neighbor, writing a letter to someone who lives alone, to cook a special meal–even to write a great post! It’s gratifying to know that so many things that we do as Jews can bring light to the world; hopefully others will choose to follow our example, too.

    • #2
    • August 2, 2020, at 4:45 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  3. Limestone Cowboy Coolidge
    Limestone CowboyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I appreciate that we have so many ways to be that “holy nation,” whether it’s helping a neighbor, writing a letter to someone who lives alone, to cook a special meal–even to write a great post! It’s gratifying to know that so many things that we do as Jews can bring light to the world; hopefully others will choose to follow our example, too.

    But that burden does not rest on just you as Jews.

    Actually most of the Christian patrimony came through the Jews. At a fundamental level our inherited ideas, shared ideas and shared commandments are at least as important as shared and inherited DNA. And to the degree that the shared ideas and commandments continue to impose obligations on Christians, then Abraham’s hopes for his descendants may not be too far off.

    And now, the boring scientist in me says that since it’s likely that the number of stars in the sky probably far exceeds the number sand grains on earth, I give round one to Moses.

    • #3
    • August 2, 2020, at 9:23 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
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  4. iWe Reagan
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Limestone Cowboy (View Comment):
    And now, the boring scientist in me says that since it’s likely that the number of stars in the sky probably far exceeds the number sand grains on earth, I give round one to Moses.

    Judaism is pragmatic. We only forbid eating bugs that we can see. The number of stars in the sky that are visible to the unaided eye is a very small fraction of the number that we can see with a telescope from the earth – and even that number is probably orders of magnitude smaller than the number that really exist.

    • #4
    • August 3, 2020, at 5:36 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Limestone Cowboy (View Comment):
    But that burden does not rest on just you as Jews.

    I’m so glad my Christian brothers and sisters agree! I know that. And I hope all of us can “shine a light” on truth, so that everyone will benefit!

    • #5
    • August 3, 2020, at 5:39 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Ontheleftcoast Member

    iWe: When Moses tells us that the Jewish people will be “as great as the stars in the sky,” he is making an aspirational statement: like stars, we are supposed to be lights unto the world. We are meant to achieve and represents spiritual heights, to always be a directional guide to mankind. Moses’ prediction is thus not a descriptor, but a prescriptor: it is our job to aspire to be holy, to become guiding lights, to show how human animals can become holy.

    That seems to be confirmed supported by the correspondence/identity between the words for “sand” and “profane,” which perhaps might be better translated as “not (yet) imbued by means of human action with obvious holiness.”

    • #6
    • August 3, 2020, at 12:12 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  7. Boss Mongo Member

    Turn your lights on.

    “There’s a darkness, living deep in my soul, still got a purpose to serve…”

    “…G-d don’t let me lose my nerve…

     

     

    • #7
    • August 8, 2020, at 2:47 PM PDT
    • 2 likes