Hashem tells Avraham in 15:5, “Habet-Na HaShamaymah USfor HaKochavim Im Tuchal Lispor Otam,” “Look heavenward and count the stars if you can.” While this Pasuk certainly has a simple meaning within the Pshat, I believe it is also referring to a deeper idea about serving Hashem.
Rabbi Yosef Shwab once told me that the letters of the word Shema – Shin, Mem, and Ayin – stand for “Se’u Eineichem Meromah,” “lift your eyes heavenwards,” and “Ol Malchut Shamayim,” “the yoke of Heaven.” Indeed the Navi instructs us in the Haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu to “lift our eyes heavenward” (Yishayah 40:26) and we will understand we will understand our Creator.
Cosmologists estimate the existence approximately 1018 to 1020 stars in the universe (1018 is scientific notation for 1 with eighteen zeros after it). The Gemara in Berachot (32b) explains how God created 12 constellations in the Heavens. In each constellation He created 30 armies. He created 30 legions for each army, 30 divisions for each legion, 30 subdivisions for each division, 30 camps for each subdivision, and 365,000 times 10,000 stars for each camp. Simple dimensional analysis gives:
12 constellations (30 armies/const.) (30 legions/army) (30 subdiv.’s/div.) (30 camps/subdiv.) (365x10,000 stars/camp) = 1018 stars
On the darkest night, under skies without light pollution, only about 8500 stars are visible to the unaided eye! How could Chazal have known 2000 years ago years ago what cosmologists only recently discovered?
The Vilna Gaon is quoted by his student Rabbi Baruch of Shklov as having said that “to the degree that a person is lacking in other disciplines, so will he be lacking a hundredfold in his understanding of Torah.” Rabbi Baruch relates that the Vilna Gaon therefore requested that the science texts of the day be translated into Hebrew.
Torah and science are not exclusive. Surely all of science is incorporated into the Torah. The Neviim, Tannaim, and Amoraim could perhaps learn directly from the Torah the science they needed to understand it. We are far from this level. How, then, can we ever begin to understand God’s universe?
In order for us to gain insight into God’s universal design, we must first have a firm grounding in Gemara and Tanach. In addition to this, we must follow the sound advice of the Vilna Gaon and gain a firm footing in mathematics and the physical sciences. Then things will really be looking up!