I’ve always found the naming of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s “Rosh Hashanah under the Stars” event, which is held each year at Oregon Ridge, particularly ironic (“Worth The Schlep,” Aug. 30).
Here’s why: Parshat Lech Lecha recounts how God addressed Abraham’s concerns that he did not have any descendants to continue spreading awareness of God in the world in the following way: “And He [God] took him outside and said, ‘Gaze, now, toward the Heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them!’ and He said to him, ‘so too will be your offspring!’” (Genesis 15:5).
Rashi, whose commentary is printed in every standard Pentateuch, offers three interpretations of the phrase “took him outside:” 1) literally took him outside and showed him the stars in the sky; 2) took him “outside” or beyond his astrological and natural destiny dictated by his and his wife’s advanced ages, which would prevent them from having any children together; and 3) elevated him physically above the stars as indicated by the term habata (translated above as “gaze”), but which connotes looking down upon.
The last two interpretations are in fact brought together as two parts of one answer and suggest that God was alleviating Abraham’s concerns by showing him that on some level he could transcend the laws of nature.
Abraham was the first “Ivri,” or one who crosses over boundaries in order to spread awareness of one God in the world. Such boundaries were not only geographic in nature, but they were of nature and included his willingness to break away from the social norms of idolatry, perform self-circumcision at an advanced age and ultimately demonstrate his willingness to completely go against his nature through the sacrifice his son, Isaac, all in his desire to fulfill the commandments of God.
… Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of man. In doing this, it is celebrating the purpose of man as exemplified by the first Ivri, Abraham, and thus reminding us that we, too, as the inheritors of the spiritual traits of Abraham, can rise “above the stars.”
Nochum (Nick) Norman