Twice in this week’s Parsha, Parshat Lech Lecha, Hashem gives Avraham the Berachah that his descendants will grow into a large multitude. The first time Avraham is given the Berachah is after he and Lot split up. Hashem promises Avraham, “VeSamti Et Zar’acha KaAfar HaAretz,” “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth” (13:16). After the war between the kings, when Avraham comes to the aid of his nephew Lot, Avraham is blessed again. Hashem tells him that his reward will be great. However, Avraham responds to Hashem that he is unhappy because he has no children. Hashem alleviates this concern by presenting Avraham with a second Berachah: “Habeit Na HaShamaimah USefor HaKochavim Im Tuchal Lispor Otam, Vayomer Lo Koh Yihyeh Zar’echa,” “‘Look at the stars in the sky and count them if you are able to,’ and [Hashem] said to him, ‘so shall be your offspring’” (15:5). The intent of both Berachot is that Avraham’s descendants will be great in number. (It is interesting to point out the comparison between the first and second Berachot. In the first Berachah, Hashem uses the words “KaAfar Haaretz,” “like the dust of the land,” which is a low point. In the second Berachah, Hashem describes Avraham’s offspring as “KeChochvei Hashamaim,” “Like the stars in the sky,” which is the highest point.)
The Netziv in Haamek Davar states that the second Berachah is presented in order to enhance the first one. Not only will Avraham’s descendants be great in number (KaAfar Haaretz), but they will also have amongst them people who are Gedolim and Chashuvim (KeChochvei Hashamaim).
My Zeide, Rabbi Yisrael Poleyeff, suggested an explanation that he heard as to what the two Berachot refer to. We are given the opportunity in all of our endeavors to reach for the heavens (KeChochvei Hashamaim) or to allow ourselves to sink to the lowest depths (KaAfar Haaretz). With much effort and willpower we can reach the greatest of heights and achieve great things for ourselves and for Am Yisrael.
Abarbanel says that the choice of Kochavim was deliberate in that even against the darkest skies, the stars shine brightly. So, too, Bnei Yisrael stand out among the nations. Or, as Rav Soloveitchik used to put it, “The Jewish people were to be outstanding.” We, too, should always set high goals and reach for greater spiritual achievements.