Re’eh: A Sky Full of Stars – Knowing Our Place ~ Tzvi Abrahams
A Sky Full of Stars — Knowing Our Place
הַשֵׁם: Hashem, the name
שֵׁם: son of Noach
תִּינְשָׁמֶת: bird of the night — owl, bat
וְהָיָה הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם בּוֹ לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם שָׁמָּה תָבִיאוּ אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם עוֹלֹתֵיכֶם וְזִבְחֵיכֶם מַעְשְׂרֹתֵיכֶם וּתְרֻמַת יֶדְכֶם וְכֹל מִבְחַר נִדְרֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר תִּדְּרוּ לַה’
And it will be The Place where Hashem your G-d will choose to rest His Name there. There you will bring all that I have commanded you, your olah and your offerings, your tithes, and the gifts of your hands, and all your choicest nedarim that you have avowed to Hashem.
Yerushalayim is never explicitly mentioned in the parshah (or anywhere in the Chumash), but is rather referred to as “the Place where Hashem will choose to rest His Shechinah there.”
Elsewhere, Hashem is known as HaMakom, The Place, as it says: הַמָקוֹם אִתִּי וְאֵינוֹ אוֹמֶר אַנִי בְּמָקוֹם, שֶׁהַקָדוֹש בָּרוּך הוֹא מְקוֹמוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם וְאֵין עוֹלָמוֹ מְקוֹמוֹ/ The Place is with me, and don’t say, I am in the place, because HaKadosh Baruch Hu is The Place of the world, and not [that] the world is His place.
Hashem, The Place, is looking for a place to rest His Shechinah, to rest His Name there. Yerushalayim is chosen as the place of connection, where Hashem is looking to connect with us. In order to achieve this, we must build for Him the Beis HaMikdash, a place for Him to reside.
Not only is Hashem looking for a place to reside, we too are looking for that special place.
In Pirkei Avos it says that one of the forty-eight ways for acquiring the Torah is הַמַכִּיר אֶת מְקוֹמוֹ/to know one’s place. According to the Midrash Shmuel, this hints at the idea that one should recognize that this world is not his place. Rather, one should consider himself to be just a גֵר תּוֹשָׁב /a temporary resident, and that his true place is waiting for him in Gan Eden under the wings of the Shechinah. All the time one is in this world, one should strive to acquire completion and return to his rightful place. The way back can only be reached through the gates of Torah.
Yerushalayim is never referred to by name because it is an abstract place, made up of the wordsיִרְאֶה שָׁלֹם/where completion will be seen. It is not a place of now, but rather a place in the future, represented by the word שָׁם/there. All the time we are “here” in this world, we have not reached our destination of being “there.” When we finally get to that special place of completion, then we will return to “the place” of being fully connected to Hashem.
But we can only do this if we are מַכִּיר אֶת מְקוֹמוֹ/know our place and recognize that only through the Torah can we reach completion. Then we will be in Yerushalayim, in the place of יִרְאֶה שָׁלֹם/where completion will be seen.
This world is called אֶרֶץ, lashon אַנִי רָץ, because all the time we are in this world we are running to our destination. Life stops for nobody, and we only stop when we get there.
Our name describes the essence of who we are, our true potential. Just like every star has a name, so too Hashem stamps every neshamah with a name to help shine light on what we need to become.
All the time we are here, we haven’t fully realized who we are meant to be. Only when we get “there” do we know if we have left behind a good name for ourselves. This is why we are compared to the stars, because just like the stars only shine when the sun has set, so too only once the sun has set on our individual lives can we really shine, because we can never be sure until the day we die whether we will leave this world of trial and temptation intact. This is what is meant when Hashem says וְאֶמְחֶה אֶת שְׁמָם מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם /He will erase our name from under the heavens, that if we fail to reach our potential of living up to our names, then in effect we are erasing our own future of having a place among the stars.
הַשֵׁם: Hashem, The Name
HaShem literally means “The Name,” the Ineffable Name, meaning that we are not allowed to pronounce His real name. Only the Kohen Gadol, the holiest of people — on Yom Kippur, the holiest of days, in הַמָּקוֹם/the Place, the holiest of places — is allowed to utter the inutterable.
On that very day, we too say out loud: בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד/blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever. Hashem is only King when we accept upon ourselves עוֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם/the yoke of Heaven, where all that we do is in the name of the King. When we serve the King, we generate מַלְכוּת/kingship, the last sefirah of the ten sefiros of Hashem’s emanation in the world. In order for there to be מַלְכוּת in the world, Hashem needs us, so to speak, to accept upon ourselves His kingship.
In Kaddish, we say יְהֵא שְׁמֵה רַבָּא/may Hashem’s name be made great.
In the first brachah of the Shemoneh Esrei, we say: לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ בְּאַהַבָה/for the sake of His Name with love, and toward the end of the Shemoneh Esrei we say: עַשֵׂה לְמַעַן שְׁמֶךָ/do it for the sake of Your Name.
We are always trying to run our lives with Hashem, “The Name,” in mind, and this is what we mean by לִשְׁמָה/lishmah. We can only be lishmah when we remove ourselves completely from the picture and instead allow Hashem to shine. In this way we become a place for Hashem to reside, a place where Hashem rides on our shoulders, a place where we become Hashem’s chariots in the world, literally chariots of fire, like Eliyahu Hanavi who went up in a chariot of fire and was known as רֶכֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל/the chariot of Yisrael.
Anything that has Hashem’s name written on it cannot be destroyed and must be buried. Therefore, the place we deposit these written names is called שֵׁמוֹת, literally names.
שֵׁם: Son of Noach
Shem was the third son of Noach but was listed first due to his wisdom. He was the one who covered up his father’s nakedness at the hands of Cham, and he is whom Yafes will always serve, specifically “in the tents of Shem,” meaning that his children will always be the spiritual leaders of the world. Shem was given authority over “The Place” and was called מַלְכִּי צֶדֶק/king of Salem (Salem from Jeru-salem), and there he set up the Yeshivah of Shem and Eiver. We are the descendants of Shem, known as Semites, who have taken on his ideology of spreading Hashem’s word in the world. Hence, those who are against his ideology are known as “anti-Semites.”
Neshamah is the divine part of me that Hashem has entrusted in me to look after while I am here in this world. When I get to where I am going, שָׁם/there, my neshamah will be returned to Hashem. My individual mission in life is imprinted into my name, which flows from the breath of Hashem, through His ruach and into my guf, just like a glass blower who blows into the glass, giving it shape, as it says: וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים/And Hashem blew into his nostrils a living soul.
Every night my neshamah is returned to the One who breathed it into me, and in the morning I say מוֹדֶה אַנִי and אֶ-לוֹהַי נְשָׁמָה, thanking Hashem for returning my neshamah.
כָּל הַנְשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵל יָ-ה הַלְלוּיָ-ה/all of my soul praises Hashem. With every breath I take I am meant to praise Hashem.
Somebody once asked me why people smoke. The answer: because it feels good. The process of breathing in the smoke gives the breath extra body. By feeling one’s breath one feels more alive, because through his נְשִׁימָה/breath, he feels his /נְשָׁמָהneshamah. Obviously, meditating on one’s breath instead is a much healthier option!
תִּינְשָׁמֶת: Bird That Flies by Night — Owl, Bat
Perhaps we could say that just like this bird-like rodent flies by night and navigates its way through sounds, so too when the sun sets on the neshamah and its time to leave the world to take its place “there” among Hashem’s stars in the night sky, the neshamah first needs to fly free from the constraints of this world, known as פְּרִיחַת הַנֶפֶשׁ/flight of the soul. So in order to get “there,” the neshamah needs to break free by navigating its way above, and just like the תִּינְשָׁמֶת, the נְשָׁמָה uses sounds, the sounds of the Torah, as it says: סוֹף דָבָר הַכָּל נִשְׁמָע/the end thing, everything will be heard, referring to the words of our Torah.
In the Midrash, both the Torah and the neshamah are compared to a נֵר/candle, as it says: נֵר ה’ וְתּוֹרַת אוֹר וְנֵר ה’ נִשְׁמָת אָדָם/the candle of Hashem is the light of the Torah and the candle of Hashem is the neshamah of man. Hashem says, “My light is in your hands and your light is in My hands,” meaning that if we take care of His light, i.e., the Torah, then He will take care of our light, i.e., the neshamah.
כִּי מְצִיוֹן תֵּצֵא תּוֹרָה וּדְבַר ה’ מִיְרוּשָׁלַיִם. From Yerushalayim, The Place where Hashem chooses for His Divine Presence to rest שָׁם/there, the word of the Torah is spread out. We are the carriers of Hashem’s word, Hashem’s chariots, and it rests upon us to spread Hashem’s Torah throughout the world. In effect, we are trying to bring “there” to the here and now.
As we have mentioned before, this world is like an עוּבַּר/embryo. The עוּבַּר is surrounded by the protective waters of the womb until the time comes for the waters to break, at which time a fully formed עוּבַּר comes out that miraculously changes from being a water-bound creation into a living, breathing air-bound creation. According to this analogy, the waters that surround this world are the waters of שָׁמַיִם, which can be broken down to שָׁם-מַיִם, “there” being water. These are the waters of the Torah, which are compared to מַיִם. Yerushalayim, the center of the world, is compared to the belly button of the world, where the עוּבַּר is sustained through the umbilical cord, connecting us to שָׁמַיִם. We, who are the breath of Hashem, we, who are Hashem’s neshamah and Hashem’s נֵר, are in effect trying to breathe Hashem into the world by shining his Torah, bringing Heaven to Earth, to the point where we will reach completion, שָׁם/there the waters will break, the עוּבַּר will be born, and Yerushalayim will become “The Place” where the full glory of Hashem will be seen. No longer will there be darkness — just a sky full of stars.
Hashem’s light is in our hands. If we truly recognize our place, that we belong under the wings of the Shechinah, then we can be out of this world. The only way to get “there” is through the light of the Torah. “There” we have a future. “There” we will take our rightful place among the heavenly hosts in שָׁמַים. שָׁם/there, each one of us has a שֵׁם/name that encapsulates our unique light that we will have acquired in this world through connecting to Hashem’s light, the light of the Torah.
Our light is in Hashem’s hands. If we choose to ignore our place, then we have no future, and our names will be erased from under the heavens.
A star by definition is something that shines. The place of the stars is in heaven, which is שָׁם מַיִם. There, the life-giving waters of the Torah will illuminate the world.
We are born to be stars, and through us, Hashem shines His light and lights up the world.
Hashem, you’re a sky full of stars.
1 Devarim 12:11.
2 Rashi to Shemos 33:21.
3 Avos 6:6.
4 See Brachos 7b: From where do we know that one’s name impacts who he is? לְכוּ חֲזוּ מִפְעֲלוֹת ה’ אֲשֶׁר שָׂם שַׁמּוֹת בָּאָרֶץ (תהלים מו:ט) אַל תִּקְרֵי שַׁמּוֹת אֶלָא שֵׁמוֹת.
5 Devarim 9:14.
6 Bereishis 2:7.
7 Tehillim 150:6.
8 See Chullin 63a.
9 Koheles 12:13.
10 Midrash Rabbah, Parshas Re’eh 4:4.
11 See above, Parshas Va’eschanan.
12 Chagigah 12a; see also Rashi to Bereishis 1:8.
13 See the haftarah for Parshas Re’eh: כל צמא לכו למים/all who are thirsty, go to [the thirst-quenching] waters [of the Torah].