The Antepenultimate Psalm contains one of the greatest homilies about praising the Creator for Science and Nature – surveying everything in the heavens and on Earth: clouds and stars, wind and snow, fruit bearing trees and those without fruit, reptiles and birds, animals and humans, young and old. Towards the beginning it also remarks: “Praise Him Sun and Moon, Praise Him all Stars of the Light!”
The Talmud, in the first page of its discussion of the Passover holiday, makes note of the odd turn of phrase: “Stars of Light,” as opposed to the more conventional “stars.” Numerous interpretations for this unusual phrase are given, including Rabbi Kimchi’s – that this unusual phrase refers to the planets, or the Talmud’s that the phrase is a euphemism for “Stars of Night,” what it really means.
But as the discussion continues, in a way prescient of the science of black holes, the Talmud asks, “Does the phrase mean that the stars without light do not need to say praise!” Namely, that if the Psalmist had intended that all of the natural Creation should praise its own Creator – then everything should be included: even the wind and snow, even the trees without fruit, and even those stars which no longer provide light, even the black holes!
I might have thought that the answer would be that a black hole shouldn’t say praise. Perhaps this dying star, breathing its last dying breaths, its own gravity pulling with destructive force, is exempt from praise. But instead the Talmud answers: the verse comes to teach us, “We do not exclude the stars that have no light, since all stars have light” (Rashi), reminding us of the more nuanced understanding of black holes: it is not that these stars have no light, but that the light is there even if we cannot see it.
I am not sure what the Talmud actually knew or thought about black holes, but the message resonated incredibly deeply. All stars have light, even the ones that don’t seem to have it on the surface. And all should praise G-d in thanks and in recognition of this fact.
(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. This post is from Maimonides Minyan, a Modern Orthodox kehilla in Brookline, Massachusetts).