By Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
This week marks the start of both a new Sedra and a new Sefer. The introduction to the Sedra, indeed what also becomes the name of the Sefer, is the reiteration of the names of the Bnei Yaakov who went down to Egypt. This idea of repeating names henceforth becomes a recurring theme in Chumash. Although there are lists of names earlier — sometimes even for non-Bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov – there is here a fundamental difference. This is the first time that the Torah merely repeats a list of names that it had already previously recorded. Rashi touches upon this point and explains: “Even though the Torah counted them while alive the Torah is repeating the list in order to show us its affection for them (the Shivtei Kah); just as they are compared to the stars that are also counted on their way in (to the night sky) and again on their way out (of the night sky)”.
Rashi appears to be a bit cryptic: why does counting them after their deaths show affection? Furthermore, whatever the reason for wishing to count the stars both on their way in and on their way out, it is not at all clear what our possible affection for them might have to do with it. What is Rashi trying to draw or prove from such an analogy?
I recall marveling as a child over how friends of mine who were only eight years old could manage to know the names of hundreds (or, as it appeared to me at the time, thousands) of various sport players who often had neither great records nor fame. Not only did they know their names, but they also knew their batting average and all sorts of other random facts. At the same time, I would marvel as to how my Grandmother Zichrona Livracha would recall the names of various Rabbonim who did not necessarily leave a claim to fame, reaching back hundreds of years. The common denominator is obvious: people recall in detail that which they cherish. Things that people cherish stand out and consequently ‘stick’ in their minds.
The stars are celestial bodies that are bright and noticeable, but they need to be cherished in order to be noticed. Those things that we cherish can be compared to stars because it is owing to our affinity, our affection for them that we notice them and appreciate their every detail.
It is that point that Rashi is coming to illustrate. It is when we value and cherish our fellow Jews that they become important to us and that we can count and recount them – because if we value and cherish Jews they are then important to us and we can count and recount them because we care for them, and we know them. They are important to us and we make note of their every detail.
It is when we value our fellow Jews that we realize that they are worthy of mention again even after their death. This is true for all Jews. It is even more strongly so with regard to Anshei Shem such as the Shvatim and their children.
A very warm Good Shabbos.
Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski