Lost in the stars?

Lost in the stars?

Cantor Rick Berlin
Cantor Rick Berlin

Bereshit, Genesis 1:1 –6:8

“When God began to create heaven and earth….” We return once again to repeat our cycle of Torah.

Torah and its many commentaries assure us that God and humans are in a relationship — we Jews call it a covenant, a brit. As we are created b’tselem d’mut (in the image of God), so we are obligated to act. Creation is not yet finished; we are mandated to continue that work.

One of my favorite Broadway tunes is “Lost in the Stars.” Sung by famous crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, the song has a secret history that explains its disturbing lyrics.

The 1949 musical — also titled “Lost in the Stars” — is about a South African minister searching for his lost son. Kurt Weill wrote the songs. In a crucial moment in the musical, the troubled minister hesitates, and expresses his own doubt. Tenderly he sings his own genesis story:

“Before Lord God made the sea and the land, he held all the stars in the palm of his hand and they ran through his fingers like grains of sand and one little star fell alone.

“Then the Lord God hunted through the wide night air for the little dark star in the wind down there and he stated and promised he’d take special care, so it wouldn’t get lost again.

“Now, a man don’t mind if the stars go dim and the clouds blow over and darken him, so long as the Lord God’s watching over him, keeping track how it all goes on.

“But I’ve been walking through the night and the day ‘till my eyes get weary and my head turns gray. And sometimes it seems maybe God’s gone away forgetting his promise and the word he’d say.

“And we’re lost out here in the stars.

Little stars big stars blowing through the night.

And we’re lost out here in the stars.

Little stars big stars blowing through the night,

And we’re lost out here in the stars.”

God’s promise “to take special care” is a source of comfort to the troubled minister. God will do it all; that’s all he needs to know. But the point of that song is not comfort, but its absence. The minister sings that “maybe God’s gone away. And we’re lost out here in the stars.”

For us, the discomfort of the song is more evident in the phrase: “So long as the Lord God’s watching over [us], keeping track how it all goes on.” The minister looks for the peace that only God can provide. We look to our covenantal relationship and its inherent mitzvot (that is, our obligations to God and to the world that we run to fulfill).

Our brit means that the choice is ours. Kol Nidre, and Un’taneh Tokef still ring in our ears. Ut’shuvah, ut’fililah, u’tzadakah — the trifecta of repentance (return), prayer (service) and righteousness (mitzvot) — are the foundation of our relationship with God. We control our actions toward our fellow human beings and our world.

May the One who established peace in the heavens, grant peace to us, to all Israel and to all humanity.

Shabbat Shalom.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)