When Few Are More

Question

Hi Rabbi, why isn’t the Jewish population larger than it is? We recently read in the weekly Torah portion that Abraham was promised by God that his descendants would be countless like the dust of the earth and the stars in the sky. Thanks.

2 weeks

Answers

  1. Good question. But before I address your question regarding God’s promise that there would be a virtually countless number of descendants to Abraham and Sarah, I’d like to put your question in the proper context.

    The greatness of the Jewish People as a nation descended from Abraham and Sarah is definitely not because of their great numbers and population. The Torah states, “God did not love you nor choose you because you were more in number than other nations, for you are the smallest of them all” (Deut. 7:7).

    The commentaries explain that the Jewish People must be counted according to the immeasurable impact that they have made in the world and not according to their physical number. Undoubtedly, Jews have impacted the world in a manner incomparable to other nations. This impact can be measured in religious importance, medical advances and other notable achievements throughout world history.

    Regarding your question about the Torah comparing their number to the countless dust of the earth and stars in the sky, the commentaries explain this numerical comparison in a number of ways (pun intended).

    For example, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch explains that it refers to the vast number of descendants from one set of parents – Abraham and Sarah Their descendants have spanned history as a continuous chain. This chain of the Jewish People is both physical and spiritual in nature. For example, converts to Judaism are called the “son and daughter of Abraham and Sarah” according to Jewish Law. This chain is eternal.

    It is interesting to note, as Rabbi Hirsch writes, that God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah was made to them only after they had passed their childbearing years and they thought they would remain childless. God told Abraham to go outside look at the great number of stars in the heaven. The underlying message was, “Look! Just as I’ve directly created all these stars in this other world above yours, I can and will change the normal order for you and directly create for you an endless chain of uncountable descendants!”

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team