Naming the Stars – Lech Lecha 5777

The first paragraph of the Amida ends with an intriguing phrase, “Blessed are You, Lord, Shield of Abraham.”  Each of the other 17/18 blessings that comprise the Amida sign off by mirroring their beginning – an introduction and conclusion painting their central theme.  For example: “You grace humanity with knowledge [. . .] Blessed are You, Lord, who graciously grants knowledge,” or “Bless this year for us [. . .] Blessed are You, Lord, who blesses the years.”  In contrast, this blessing’s beginning is notably devoid of any shield imagery, “Blessed are You, Lord, Our God and God of our ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  

Adding to the confusion, our most central prayer starts by declaring our unique relationship with the Divine.  However, our closeness quickly dissipates in the face of recalling God’s grandeur, “The God, the Great, the Mighty, the Awesome, God Most High.”  Who then are we praising, the God who sits on a throne high and lofty or the Divine with whom we have a tangible intimacy?  And why do we end this incongruous blessing by calling to mind God’s promise to be Abraham’s shield?

The source of this pledge lies in parashat Lech Lecha.  After moving his family to the land of Canaan (and an episode in Egypt), Avram parts ways with his nephew Lot – for the land cannot bear the weight of their combined riches.  Soon after, Lot is captured in the crossfires of battle between the five and four kings.  Upon hearing the plight befallen his next of kin, Avram rallies the 318 men belonging to his house and swiftly defeats all the kings’ armies.  

Unfortunately, the joy of triumph evades our hero and fear takes hold.  In an act of miraculous reassurance, “the word of the Lord came to Avram in a vision saying, ‘Do not fear, Avram; I am shielding you (Breshit 15:1).’”  However, despite an oath of divine protection from mortal harm, Avram continues to worry due to his distinct lack of progeny.  In response, God promises to make Abraham’s descendants like the stars of the sky – beyond enumeration.  In this way, God’s entering into a covenant as the ‘Shield of Abraham’ is two fold – just like the first paragraph of the Amida.

Our God is the Creator who forms the heavens and the Diety who knows every human heart.  The Power on high exists part and parcel with the intimate Divine.  This relationship of duology is the essence of the Amida’s first blessing.  Thus, the establishment of God as the Shield of Abraham is the perfect signature.  For through Abraham we come into covenant with the Powerful and the Intimate – the One “Who counts the number of the stars, calling each by name” (Psalms 147:4).  

*Photo Credit: Hubble Telescope The Most Important Image Ever Taken

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