Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )
Bereishis, 1:16: “And God made the two great luminaries; the great luminary to rule by the day, and the small luminary to rule by the night, and the stars.”
Rashi, 1:16: Dh: The great luminaries: “They [the sun and moon] were created equal, and the moon was made smaller because it accused and said, ‘it is impossible for two Kings to use one crown…”
Rashi, 1:16, Dh: And the stars: “Because He [God] reduced the moon, He increased the hosts in order to conciliate it.”
The Torah describes the creation of the Sun and the Moon: However, there is a blatant contradiction in the verse. It begins by describing them as the two great luminaries, implying that they were both of equal size. Yet, immediately after, the verse describes the sun as the great luminary and the moon as the small luminary. The Gemara1, cited by Rashi, relates a fascinating incident to explain this discrepancy.2
Originally, God created the Sun and Moon to be equal in size. However, the moon was not satisfied with this arrangement and argued to God that only one of the luminaries should dominate, with the clear implication that it be the Moon itself that would be the ascendant luminary. In contrast, the Sun remained silent and did not defend itself. As a result of the Moon’s behavior, God punished it by reducing its size. Hence, the second part of the verse notes the change from both lights being of an equally great size, to the Sun remaining that way, but the moon becoming a far smaller light.
However, the story does not end there – Rashi then cites a Midrash that adds that in order to appease the Moon, God created the stars to accompany the moon in providing light in the night time.3 Rabbi Yissachar Frand makes a powerful point based on this Midrash: He explains:
“In the original Master Plan of Creation there was apparently only supposed to be a sun and a moon. But after reducing the size of the moon, the Master of the Universe decided to create stars to accompany the moon in the night sky. Rashi explains that this was a sort of conciliation prize to the moon, who suffered a reduction in size and the loss of its own source of light. To assuage the feelings of the moon, G-d created stars. Now, how many stars are there? There are billions of stars! No one knows how many stars there are in the heavens. Consider the Milky Way! The number is astronomical! And what is the whole purpose of the stars? They are to make the moon feel better!”
This understanding can help us explain another Rabbinic saying that pertains to the Stars: The Gemara4 expounds on a verse in the Book of Daniel: “The wise will shine like the radiance of the firmament, and those who teach righteousness to the multitudes (matzdikei harabim) will shine like the stars forever and ever.”5 The Gemara posits that the reference to “those who teach righteousness to the multitudes” refers to teachers of young children (melamdei tinokos). They are like the stars of the heavens. The obvious question is that there are many people who teach many people – why did the Gemara specifically focus on teachers as meriting the exalted description of shining like the stars forever?
A star is of immense size and power and provides an incredible amount of light. People who spread Torah are also providing an incredible amount of spiritual ‘light’ and in that way they all resemble stars.
However, there is an additional point that relates in particular to teachers of young children. When a person looks at a star, all he sees is a tiny little spec in the sky. It certainly does not look particularly impressive. However, in truth, a star is an incredible Creation. In a comparable manner, a person might mistakenly consider a school teacher as insignificant. He might belittle the ability required to teach young boys, and he may think that learning of a boy at that age is not of such great significance to his future. Our Sages tell us that this is an erroneous approach.
Teaching ‘Aleph-beit’ may seem like he is doing a small thing, but in truth, his function and accomplishments are eternal! Indeed, in a certain sense, he is doing more than all the boy’s future teachers, in that he is giving the boy the tools he needs to learn anything in the future. In this vein, it is said that the only person that the Vilna Gaon considered as his ‘Rebbe’ was the teacher who taught him ‘Aleph-beit’ because without that, he could not have learnt anything.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- The following explanation is very hard to understand – on a simple level, we cannot comprehend what it means that the Sun and Moon ‘spoke’ and seemingly expressed character traits, but the point of such teachings it to derive lessons about life. As Rabbi Yissachar Frand explains, “When we hear such teachings from the Rabbis—the moon complained, the moon felt bad, etc.—we need to understand what is being taught. The moon is an inanimate object. These are metaphors. The teachings are clearly allegorical. The point of such Midrashim is to teach us lessons. Midrash is a specific mode of Torah expression. The Sages are speaking to us in code.”The simple understanding of this Midrash is that the whole creation of the Stars was for the sake of compensating the moon. However, it is possible to interpret this Midrash slightly differently – that the Stars would have been created regardless of the incident with the Moon, but that they would not have given light in the night on Earth. In order to appease the moon, God arranged it so that the Stars would also give light on Earth. The first approach will be primarily adopted in this article.
- Bava Basra,
- 8b.Daniel, 12:3.
Reprinted with permission
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