By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Our religious school project is to find the meaning of the Jewish star. Is there a source for it in the Torah or early rabbinical writings? Did King David use it as his seal?
Thank you for your help.
— Megan, Brittany and Mica
Dear Megan, Brittany and Mica,
The Star of David, or six-pointed Jewish star, in Hebrew is called the Magen David, literally meaning the “Shield of David.” It has become synonymous with the Jewish people and the State of Israel. A blue Star of David adorns the Israeli flag, a red one its ambulances, and it is the official emblem of the State. The yellow Star of David is infamous for Nazi persecution; its way of singling out our people.
For a sign that has become, in recent Jewish history, so emblematic of our people, it would certainly seem to be something mentioned often in our early writings. It is, therefore, quite surprising that it is not referred to in the Bible or the Talmud, or its commentaries. Although the star was used by some many hundreds of years ago, it was not widespread.
The only place in early rabbinical writings we find the term Magen David (other than on a Mogen David wine bottle) are in the blessings recited with the weekly Haftarah on Shabbat morning, where we end one of the blessings with the term “Magen David.”
In that blessing, however, we are not referring to the Jewish star, but rather to God, who we allegorically refer to as the “Shield of David,” as King David continually attributed his success in war and protection from his enemies to God and not to his own war skills. Even in the writings of King David, the book of Psalms/Tehillim, we do not find the term Magen David.
As far as its meaning, some explain that the six points of the star represent the six universal directions from which God bestows His blessings and protection: north, south, east and west, as well as above and below. For this reason, the Talmud explains, we shake the etrog and lulav all six of those directions; it is a type of prayer that God should blow the winds and rains of blessing from all four directions and from above, and they should bring blessings to the world below.
Along this vein, some explain that the way we express this is by the two overlapping triangles, which form the six points. The triangle represents the triple-connection upon which our nation is based: God, the Torah and the Jewish People.
One triangle, facing upward, reflects our looking upward toward the almighty through our prayers, mitzvot and study of Torah. The triangle pointing downward is God’s reaction to our looking upward; when we look up to Him, He looks lovingly down at us and bestows His blessings upon us.
Our triangle up brings God’s triangle down to us. This is further hinted in the Mishnah, which is comprised of six orders, or major sections. The number six in Hebrew is the numerical value of the letter “vov,” which is like a stick going from above to below. Its meaning is that of connection from heaven to earth, hence the six-pronged star.
That would explain why it is referred to a “magen” or shield, as that connection of the dual triangle is what we believe is our true protection and brings success to our armies, and is the secret of Jewish eternity.
There are those who consign an even deeper meaning to the star — its six corners and middle section that brings it to seven. This is hinting to the six-plus-one makeup of the lower sefiros, or spiritual worlds, which reflect the seven middos, or traits of God that He uses to control the world. It is not in the purview of this column to explain those traits or spiritual worlds, but this further explains what we wrote above about the dual triangles.
The extent, which God brings illumination and blessing through the pipelines of those worlds down to our world, depends upon our actions toward God, hence the upward and downward triangles.
May we fulfill the messages in the Star of David and through that receive much protection, peace and prosperity.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.