ויוצא אתו החוצה ויאמר הבט נא השמימה וספר הכוכבים אם תוכל לספר אתם ויאמר לו כה יהיה זרעך
“And He took him outside and said: ‘Please look at the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘Thus will be your offspring.’”
The literal meaning of this verse is that after the coming of Moshiach, Hashem will show Avraham the multitudes of angels that were created from the mitzvos performed by his offspring – because, as we know, every mitzvah performed creates an angel. “The good deeds of the righteous are considered their offspring.” The billions of angels/offspring of Avraham and his children will be beyond calculation.
The words of the Torah hold meaning in every generation. What does this verse teach us for now, while we are still in exile? There is a profound lesson in this verse, which the following incident brings to light:
After the Holocaust, there were unfortunately some survivors who lost their faith due to the tremendous suffering they endured. Tragically, there were survivors who became bitter and completely left the Torah, proclaiming that there is no Judge or justice in this world, G-d forbid.
There is a moving story about one such survivor. A religious Jew was traveling to Eretz Yisroel, and found himself seated in the airplane next to a secular Jew who spoke bitterly about the holocaust. “My parents, wife and children were all murdered,” he complained. “They were completely innocent. How could G-d allow such terrible things to happen?” He concluded that there could not possibly be a G-d if this is what happened to the world. The religious Jew tried to change his companion’s perception of the holocaust, but to no avail. After landing in Israel, they each went their separate ways.
The religious Jew was in Israel for the High Holidays. On Yom Kippur, during the short recess after Shacharis, he took a walk around the block of the shul. As he was walking, he noticed an obviously secular Jew walking on the other side of the street, carrying several packages. It pained him to see someone desecrate Yom Kippur. And then he suddenly recognized the person as his flight companion.
He ran across the street and greeted the non-religious Jew. “We are about to say Yizkor in shul,” he explained. “Won’t you do this much for the departed souls of your dear parents, wife and children? Won’t you come inside and say Yizkor in their memory?”
At first the non-religious person refused to hear of it, but it wasn’t long before he conceded. As he entered the shul, the friendly gabbai (sexton) welcomed him warmly and patiently helped him through the Yizkor prayer. He asked for the exact Hebrew names of the stranger’s martyred father, mother and wife. Then he asked him for the names of his children. Crying openly, the stranger said the name of his eldest son. The gabbai paled and asked him to repeat the name. The stranger repeated the name once more. The gabbai exclaimed: “That’s my full Hebrew name!”
The shul erupted in pandemonium. It turned out that the gabbai was a young child during the Holocaust. He managed to escape deportation and hid out in the woods until he finally reached a safe haven. After the holocaust, he came to Eretz Yisroel, thinking that he is the only surviving member of his family. After asking a few more questions, it became clear that the middle-aged secular Jew was none other than the gabbai’s father.
After witnessing the open Hand of Providence, the father turned around completely and became fully religious. He now firmly believed that there is a G-d who plans everything that transpires, although His Face is sometimes painfully hidden.
This story shows us that even when it appears as if the light within a Jew’s soul has become extinguished, there is always a tiny spark that remains alive. When the spark is fanned, it bursts into a flame and shines brightly.
This is the teaching of this verse: “And he took him outside” – the yetzer hara sometimes manages to take a Jew outside of his faith and says to him, “Look at the heavens.” The yetzer hara argues that G-d’s Face is obscured and there is nothing to be seen up there. G-d doesn’t exist (ח"ו), he says.
But Hashem responds, “Count the stars, if you are able to count them.” All stars shine, but some of them cannot be seen with the naked eye. “Thus will be your offspring.” Every Jew is like a shining star, his soul ablaze with the light of Hashem. Not always is the light visible, but it is always there.
Because every Jewish soul is a shining star with an eternal light.