EVERY ONE A STAR
The James Webb Space Telescope, launched two years ago, continues to transmit beautiful and exciting images of the early universe, exceeding all earlier expectations.
In order to be useful, the wealth of new information needs to be classified. There is a specific organization, the International Astronomic Union (IAU) which has conventions for labelling all new astronomical bodies.
In the bible, we find it is G-d who takes this role. As the prophet Isaiah says:
“He declares the stars according to their number, He calls all of them by name.” (40:26)
Rashi cites this verse at the beginning of his commentary to this week’s parasha. The Children of Israel were listed in last week’s parsha. They are listed again at the beginning of this week’s portion.
“Although the Torah provides a count of the Children of Israel in their lifetimes, the Torah repeated this count when they died to indicate how dear they are to the Almighty, just like the stars. For when it comes to the stars we know that G-d brings them out and returns them by number and by name, as it says, ‘He declares the stars according to their number, He calls all of them by name’.”
In what way are the Children of Israel compared to stars?
The internationally renowned educator, Rabbi David Fohrman, points out that Rashi is communicating a remarkable idea.
In only a few generations, the 70-strong family of Jacob underwent a population explosion. As we read in the beginning of the parasha:
“The Children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very very strong, and the land became filled with them.” (1:7)
The growth from family to clan to nation is a wonderful blessing. Yet, it has its downside. A loss of intimacy. Who can know everyone anymore? When Jacob’s family came to Egypt, Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Menasseh, were introduced to their fifty-four first cousins, whom they no doubt got to know well. But when the population swelled to 600,000 it was impossible for any one person to know all of them.
This may be beyond the capacity of man, but however many we become, G-d can and does know us. Just like the stars which He can identify individually, each one of us is special and precious in the eyes of G-d.
The James Webb Telescope may be able to look at stars billions of light-years away but each of us can look around us and recognise that we have all been created in the image of G-d. At a time when Israel is under threat and antisemitism is on the increase, we need to recognise the enormous potential in the galaxy of the Jewish people to bring light to one another and to bring light to the world. Every one a star.