Parshas Lech Lecha (5775)
The Lone Ranger and Tonto are camping in the desert. After setting up their tent, they drift into a deep sleep. Some hours later, The Lone Ranger wakes his faithful friend. "Tonto, look up at the sky and tell me what you see." Tonto replies, "Me see millions of stars." "What does that tell you?" asks The Lone Ranger. Tonto ponders for a minute. "Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it’s evident the Lord is all powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. "What it tell you, Kemo Sabe?" The Lone Ranger is silent for a moment, then speaks. "Tonto, you half-wit! Someone has stolen our tent."
While Tonto might have been awed by the beauty and vastness of the billions of stars in the cosmos, most of us today are fascinated by very different types of “stars” – the celebrities and famous people that many of us glorify and almost worship as deities.
We spend untold hours watching them play ball, perform in concert or act in the movies. We read and talk about their love lives, messy divorces, plastic surgery and any other juicy gossip we can pick up in the media. Entire industries have developed which capitalize on the public’s seemingly unquenchable desire for more and more pics, videos and news about the stars.
But who really are these “stars”? Often, when we get up close and personal to some of our modern-day celebs, and especially when they open their mouths to say something, all the glitz and glamour peels away and these stars aren’t shining so brightly anymore. We begin to see some of them in a very different light, and we come to realize that what we saw on the outside was all there was – because inside there’s nobody home.
Here are but a few examples of the “pearls of wisdom” that often emerge from the mouths of the stars we spend a good part of time gazing at:
“I think that the film 'Clueless' was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it's true lightness.” - Alicia Silverstone
"Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life." - Brooke Shields, during an interview to become spokesperson for a federal anti-smoking campaign.
"We're going to turn this team around 360 degrees." - Jason Kidd, upon his drafting to the Dallas Mavericks.
"I've been to lots of overseas countries. Like Canada" - Britney Spears
When asked if he visited the Parthenon while in Greece, Shaquille O'Neal said - "I don't remember the names of the clubs we went to".
Now I don’t mean to suggest that every star in Hollywood or football player in the NFL says the kind of dumb things these stars did. Nor do I think that the only thing all the stars have going for them is their external talent or beauty with nothing of value inside. Certainly, there are celebrities out there who are intelligent, educated, charitable, and who are wonderful role models.
But the reality is that there are many stars today that are less impressive on the inside the more we get to know them.
So who then is a true “star”?
I think we can find the definition of a star in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Lech Lecha, where G-d blesses our forefather Abraham that his descendants should be like the stars (see Genesis 15:5).
The commentators offer various explanations of the blessing to be “like the stars”. I would humbly suggest the following idea:
We know that stars appear very small from a distance but shine brighter and are much greater the closer we get to them. So, too, were Abraham’s children – all of us – blessed that through Limmud HaTorah (studying the Torah) and Shemiras HaMitzvos (observing the commandments), we should become true “stars” – meaning that the closer people get to us, the greater we shine – which is the exact opposite of many of today’s stars and celebs whose personal lives are hardly good examples for us to follow.
This is why you will find that the great Tzaddikim (saintly individuals) and true stars of the Jewish people in every generation - including this one – are typically very old and frail, and certainly not very athletic. They could likely never catch a football or act in a movie – but they have worked on correcting their character flaws all their lives and have grown spiritually to the point that they fit the Torah’s definition of stars - for the closer we get to them, the greater they shine and the beauty of their true personalities come out.
I would like to recommend a book about a true star of the Jewish people who lived during the British Mandate. The book is called A Tzaddik in our Time: The Life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin by Simcha Raz (Feldheim Publishers). A giant of the spirit, a hero of the heart - the astonishing story of Rabbi Aryeh Levin ZT”L has captivated generations of readers. Undeterred by danger and destruction, and despite terrible personal tragedies, Reb Aryeh, as he was affectionately called, tended to Jewish prisoners on death row, lepers, and the downtrodden. With his signature smile and warm handshake, he brought love and light to even the darkest of spirits; his legendary kindness uplifted his generation.