Today, at Aish Center of Greater Washington, Rabbi Baruch Frankel called out an important lesson from Parsha Lech Lecha, where Hashem says to Avraham:
Gaze, now, toward the Heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them! So shall your offspring be!
Rabbi Frankel expounded on this: Why did G-d ask Avraham to count the stars, when of course, this was impossible for him? Further, we know that the Jewish people are a minority in the world and are not numerous, so what was Hashem really saying here?
He answered this by explaining that what Hashem was really telling Avraham and us is that what is seemingly impossible according to the laws of nature (like counting the stars in Heaven) is not impossible where G-d is concerned, and that for His faithful people, we can achieve what even supersedes the regular laws of nature.
Thus, even though the Jewish people are a tiny minority in the world, through our faith, determination, and the help of G-d, we are able to survive against all odds, contribute to the world far beyond our mere numbers, and succeed in truly incredible ways. From Einstein, Freud, and Marx to Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Ellison, we are a people that punches way above our weight.
When I thought about this some more, I realized that all throughout the Torah, G-d seems to ask the impossible from his people, yet in every case, the impossible becomes possible:
- Noah: To singlehandedly build an ark to save not only his family, but representatives of all the world’s animal kingdom from the flood that was to destroy the world. (Genesis 6:13-7:5)
- Avraham: To sacrifice his dearly beloved son, Isaac, as an offering on the alter to Hashem. (Genesis 22)
- Jacob: To wrestle with an angel and overcome him, even as his nemesis, brother Esau approached with a frightful army of four hundred men. (Genesis 32: 25-33)
- Joseph: To rise from a lowly prisoner to become the 2nd to the Pharaoh and to save all of Egypt and the Israelites from a 7-year famine. (Genesis 41:14-55)
- Moshe: To speak to Pharoah–even though a mere shepherd with a speech impediment–to let the Israelites go and lead them out of the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land. (Exodus 3-4:18)
- Joshua: To conquer the seven Canaanite nations “larger and stronger” than the Israelites. (Numbers 27:18-20 and Deuteronomy 7:1)
- Samson: To bring down the pillars supporting the Philistine pagan temple and destroying 3,000 of Israel’s mortal enemies, even after he was captured, beaten and blinded. (Judges 16-26-27)
- David: To Smite the giant Goliath with a mere slingshot (Samuel 17) and to conquer Jerusalem, the indomitable “fortress of Zion.” (2 Samuel 5:6-7)
Over and over again, Hashem tests His people and asks them to perform the seemingly impossible. Yet, if Hashem’s people but have faith and determination, He makes miracles for us.
Today, there is no greater example of this than with the flourishing of the State of Israel just 71 years after its founding. From the blooming of the desert to the bustling, hi-tech economy, immersive Torah learning and its premiere military, Israel is accomplishing the seemingly impossible.
- In 1948, Israel without a standing military, and with many at the front lines who had only just survived the death camps of the Holocaust, still managed to survive all the invading armies from around its borders for not only its War of Independence, but subsequent wars virtually every decade since. Israel succeeded not only in surviving, but in building one of the greatest militaries in the entire world. Now they have defense systems that many other prominent western militaries seek out whether from the Trophy Tank Protection System to drones, electronic and cyber warfare, and missile defense. Israel is ranked 17th in military power and has become the 8th largest defense exporter in the world!
- When Israel was founded, it had been virtually desolate, with 60% desert and 20% semi-arid land, and large uninhabitable disease-filled swamps. Yet Israel’s pioneers were able to work the land and make the desert bloom. They built a national water carrier from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south, and created not only a thriving agriculture industry, but also innovated numerous water solutions, such as drip-irrigation, desalinization, and wastewater reclamation that is shares from California to Africa, India, and China. Israel has gone from being a country with a severe water shortage to now having an abundant surplus!
- The high-tech economy in Israel is booming with not only top technology companies investing in and setting up shop in “Silicon Wadi”, but with innovations from Waze’s GPS navigation to MobileEye’s autonomous driving, Microsoft’s operating systems (Windows NT and XP), Intel’s processors (8088, Centrino, and Sandy Bridge), Checkpoint’s first industry-level firewalls, SolarEdge’s power optimizers, PillCam’s videocamera capsules, Mazor’s surgical robots, and ReWalk’s exoskeletons to name just a few. Israel is ranked the 5th most innovative nation!
I believe the lessons of faith and determination is one that we can all take away from the tests of our forefathers in the Bible to the flourishing modern State of Israel and to how we live our own lives today. G-d tests all of us, and if we go forward and answer His calling with a full heart and perseverance, G-d will help us to succeed above our wildest of dreams and even beyond the very laws of nature.