The Dust of the Earth

Yael Eckstein  |  October 13, 2021

Soldier wearing tallit and tefillin prays with the Torah in the desert.

I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. — Genesis 13:16

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Lech Lecha, which means “go to yourself,” from Genesis 12:1–17:27.

A few weeks ago, I was at a mall in Beit Shemesh, a town in Israel about a half hour drive from Jerusalem. Just beyond the entrance to the mall there was a photo exhibit on display. Rows of old black and white pictures, blown up much larger than their original size, sat on easels on either side of the shoppers.

The pictures were stunning. All of them were taken in the 1950s, during the early years of the state of Israel, when Jews from Arab lands in North Africa and elsewhere were brought to the Holy Land. Small children playing on the barren earth in tent camps, leather-skinned men and women digging into the raw ground, and a few posed shots of young men and women who were newly enlisted in the Israeli army, among others. The exhibit was put on by the city to honor the founders of Beit Shemesh who sacrificed so much to build a new town in the Jewish homeland.

As I looked at the faces in the pictures, I saw both their joy and their hardship. It got me thinking about the miracle of the growth of the state of Israel. How did we grow so fast from being a nation of impoverished refugees — both from Europe after the Holocaust, from the Arab lands, and elsewhere — to become a successful first-world economy?

The Dust of the Earth

As I looked at the faces in the pictures, I wondered, “Are the Jewish people successful despite our history of suffering, or because of it?”

In this week’s Torah portion, God tells Abram that his descendants will be “like the dust of the earth.” Was God really promising that the Jews would be a large nation? We never have been. In fact, later in the Bible, Moses describes Israel as “the fewest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7). What did God mean when He compared us to dust?

The dust of the earth is what people walk all over. It’s considered dirty and worthless. On the other hand, the dust of the earth is also the soil in which things grow; it is the most necessary source of life.

Maybe we really are like the dust of the earth. The nation of Israel has been trampled and treated as worthless, but at the same time we have always produced indispensable life and growth for all humanity. Maybe being like dust really is a blessing after all!

Your Turn:

Add a moment of prayer today for the nation of Israel.