STARS, SOIL AND SAND
At the time I am writing this message, Israel is being bombarded with rockets. Our hearts go out to the families who have been bereaved; to the many who have been wounded and lost their homes; and the even more who are being traumatised by the events. May G-d bless them and protect them and send a refua shlema speedily.
When we learn of casualties, it strikes us with deep shock. A precious soul has been struck down; A precious soul has been injured. Every person is special. Every person is unique.
The particular nature of our nation is described in different ways in the Bible.
Our Torah uses three kinds of similie to refer to our people.
Abraham is told that his descendants will be like the stars of the heaven
Isaac is told that they will be like the sand of the seashore
Jacob is told that they will be like the dust of the earth, or the soil of the ground.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Stars, soil and sand.
As it happens, Isaac’s blessing is repeated in this week’s haftarah. The prophet Hoshea is told,
וְֽ֠הָיָה מִסְפַּ֤ר בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ כְּח֣וֹל הַיָּ֔ם
“The number of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea.”
Three blessings. Three similies. Three poetic phrases: Like the stars, like the sand, and like the soil.
Is this just poetic language? Or is there a deeper meaning?
It was clear to our commentators many years ago, that these had to be blessings of quality rather than quantity. Just look at the size of the Jewish population of the world!
Rabbi Yaakov Zvi Mecklenberg, writing in the 19th century, explained that to be like the soil of the earth, is to be an essential medium for growth. Just as soil is vital for growth, so will the Jewish people be vital for civilization for the growth of ideas and values, especially moral teachings.
Rabbi Mecklenberg’s younger contemporary, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, wrote that to be like the stars which light up the night sky, means that the Jewish people will be a people of radiance, lighting up the world, making a contribution much greater than their numbers.
And Rabbi Ephraim Luntschitz, writing back in the 16th century, said that to be like sand is a blessing of resilience, whatever the circumstances. Although the waves crash on the sand and threaten to wash it away, and yet the seashore remains, so the Jewish People have defied enemy after enemy across the generations, and have not been washed away.
We stand firm in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel that they should continue to be resilient in these troubling times.
We fervently pray that the state of Israel will be granted the opportunity to live in peace with all its neighbours and help them grow and develop.
And may the light of our people shine forth for all mankind, in its messianic fulfilment, speedily in our days. Amen