This past week I was blessed to be able to visit Eretz Yisrael. I went to Kever Rochel and then davened at the Me’aras Hamachpela (Tomb of the Patriarchs). I hadn’t been at the Me’aras Hamachpela in 20 years. It was a very moving experience. We then went back to Yerushalayim and davened Maariv at the Kotel! Davening by Mama Rochel, the kever of the Avos and Imahos (Patriarchs and Matriarchs) and then bringing all those prayers to the Kotel! It was a powerful experience.
Sefer Shemos (Exodus) opens up with the names of the Bnei Yisrael who came down to Mitzrayim with Yaakov. Rashi quotes the Midrash that Hashem counting the Bnei Yisrael now, even though He had counted them in their lifetime, shows His love for them. They are now compared to the stars in multitude, although each with a number and a name.
Why are the shevatim (tribes, children of Yaakov) and their children being compared to the stars? And why is there both a number and a name? Rav Elchonon Wasserman explains that a number and a name each have a unique quality. A number always counts, regardless of the person’s stature. Rav Wolbe compares this to an election, where each vote is the same, whether it comes from a CEO or a homeless person. In our last few elections, both here and in Israel, the results were so close, each vote was crucial. That is why the shevatim are compared to stars, tzva’im, whose root also means tzva—army.
An individual can be described by both a number and a name, depending on the circumstance. In an army, a simple cadet is just a number—his name is not important. A higher-ranking officer, however, is a name—Captain Levin—for his individual qualities are recognized and important. Even a young child recognizes his name, since it designates his identity. No other person is like him or her.
Hashem is telling all of Bnei Yisrael the “secret” to getting out of their exile, as their enslavement begins to intensify. They must recognize that each person counts, each individual is important.
That is why the Ramban calls Sefer Shemos the sefer hageula (the book of redemption), even though it starts with exile and servitude. Counting and recognizing the strengths and uniqueness of each individual is the formula to help us leave exile.
The Avos and the Imahos were compared to the sun and the moon in the dream of Yosef. But the Shevatim were compared to the stars.
The stars shine in the deepest darkness, symbolizing the intensifying exile. Each unique star—each person—shines with his own unique light. This uniqueness is gifted to us by the Avos, as we say in the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei, “Hashem remembers the uniqueness of the Avos and brings redemption to their children.” We are not the Avos, but we are their progeny and they bequeathed us with a special connection to Hashem and the ability to shine like stars.
For some, their individuality shines in the public eye, benefiting many. For others, their own individual beacon of light shines closer to home, helping and serving as an example to others, but is no less important in the eyes of Hashem.
My remarkable trip to Eretz Yisrael culminated with a double siyum haShas completed by two of my cousins on the yahrzeit of our grandfather, Mr. Helmut Bodenheim, Naftoli ben Avraham, z”l. My grandfather was not a public figure. He was a very straight and honest person who adhered to halacha all his life. He was always on time for minyan and kept to his schedule of learning and shiurim meticulously. He would very rarely miss a shiur, but if he had to he would call the rabbi beforehand and apologize for his absence.
My grandfather lived across the street from the Philadelphia Yeshiva for the last 30 years of his life. All the young budding Torah scholars learned so much from him. He didn’t learn full time as they did, but the tremendous care he took in his service to the Almighty—his avodas Hashem—created a deep impression on the boys.
My grandfather survived the Second World War with his only sister, and my grandmother survived Auschwitz as an only child. From this special couple has come over 150 shining stars who are their descendants, all committed to Torah and mitzvos.
Let us take our unique talents and qualities transmitted to us by our Avos and do our best to shine brilliantly like the stars that we are. Let us be a beacon of light in the darkness of this exile and may we merit to reunite with our Avos with the Final Redemption.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.