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Yoma 20


QUESTION: Rav Levi asked why a person's voice is not heard as well during the day as it is at night. He answered that it is "because of the sound produced by the sun's disc as it saws its way through the firmament like a sawyer cutting down cedars."

The Gemara discusses this "sun dust" further and says that "the dust which can be discerned hanging in the air where the sun shines is the sawdust that is produced by the sun's progress. It is referred to in Hebrew as Lo -- 'nothingness.' This is what Nevuchadnetzar referred to when he said (Daniel 4:32), 'All of the inhabitants of the earth are as 'Lo' [to Hashem].'"

What is this "sun dust," and what does it mean that the sun "saws its way through the firmament?"


[I] The Gemara (Sotah 10a) tells us that the Hebrew word for "sun" -- "Shemesh" -- can be used as an appellation for Hashem, as it says, "Hashem is a Shemesh and a shield" (Tehilim 84:12). Why should the sun be called by the same word that denotes its Creator?

David ha'Melech wrote, "The heavens proclaim the glory of Hashem.... The sun appears like a groom coming out of his bridal canopy; it rejoices like an athlete running his course. It emerges from one edge of the sky and it goes around to the other; no one can escape its heat" (Tehilim 19:2-7).

In what way do "the heavens proclaim the glory of Hashem?" Through the sun's great might, Hashem's power is demonstrated. This colossal nuclear furnace is the source of all life on earth. The sun, our only directly observable star, is the greatest public demonstration of the awesome might and glory of Hashem.

This may explain why the word "Shemesh," which is used to describe Hashem, was borrowed as a name for the sun, His great emissary on this world. After all, an emissary is entitled to go by the name of his dispatcher. The sun is the great witness to Hashem's power in this world

[II] RABEINU BACHYE (introduction to Parshas Yisro; see also Kli Yakar, Bereishis 32:27) uses this idea to explain a Gemara in Bava Basra (16b). The Gemara there relates, quoting Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai, that there was a precious stone that hung from the neck of Avraham Avinu. Whoever was sick would come and gaze at the stone and be healed. When Avraham died, Hashem hung the stone on the sphere of the sun.

Rabeinu Bachye notes that the Gemara is comparing Avraham's capability to "enlighten people's eyes," in a spiritual sense, to a brilliant gem. The Gemara said that the gem hung from his neck, because speech emanates from one's throat which is in the neck, and it was through his words that Avraham was able to enlighten the spiritually ill. When Avraham died, he left behind no other human being who was capable of demonstrating Hashem's unity and greatness to others. This capability now rested only with the sun, as it says, "The heavens proclaim the glory of Hashem."

[III] This is the deeper meaning in our Gemara as well. The nighttime represents the period when, without the bright sun shining on the land, we do not see Hashem's hand clearly in the world. It is under the cover of night that a person is particularly susceptible to the persuasions of the forces of evil. The darkness of night allows a person to forget his Creator.

When Rav Levi asked, "Why is the voice of person heard better at night," he meant, "Why is a *person* dominated by his physical, worldly impulses at night more than by day?" His answer was that by day, the sun can be heard boring through the heavens like a man sawing through cedars. The daytime is dominated by the "voice" of the sun, that great harbinger of Hashem's mighty presence. This bolsters a person's faith and makes him less susceptible to the persuasions of the Yetzer ha'Ra.

The manner in which the sun cuts through the firmament is compared to "a man cutting through cedars." The tall, erect cedar tree is used by the Torah as a symbol of haughtiness (Rashi, Vayikra 14:4). As the sun cuts its way through the heavens, Hashem cuts down the haughty. The sun humbles the arrogant by openly demonstrating Hashem's power.

"The dust which can be discerned hanging in the air where the sun shines is the sawdust that is produced by the sun's progress." The dust that reflects light in the sun's rays reminds us of the lesson in humility that we derive from the sun. Wherever the sun shines, we are reminded that, "You are dust, and to dust you will return" (Bereishis 3:19). We are made aware of the overwhelming power of Hashem compared to our own feebleness. This is precisely the context in which "Lo" is quoted in Daniel -- "All of the inhabitants of the world are like nothingness [to Hashem]."

This, then, is the lesson of the sun's "sawing," a lesson of which we are reminded every time we see dust suspended in a beam of sunlight. Our Gemara, rather than being a lesson in ancient astronomy, is actually a deep philosophical lesson of faith in Hashem. (M. Kornfeld; see "Be'er Hagolah," ch. 6, for the Maharal's approach to this Agadah.)

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