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[How are they like stars?]
Some explain that a star, though it is not visible in daylight, still exists during the day. So it is with the righteous person in the World to Come, which is compared to day. [The righteous person] exists [in the World to Come], but [in this world] he is not seen; likewise, he is not lost except to his own generation [who are directly affected by the loss of a righteous person in their midst].
Conversely, others explain that a star is visible only at night; thus the light of a righteous person continues to shine even after his sun sets [i.e., after his death], as it is written, "Before the sun is darkened."2
It appears to me3 that essentially a person is not recognized for his good name until after his death, since it is not known whether his righteousness will endure until the end of his lifetime. Thus it is written, "And I praised the dead."4 During a person's lifetime there is no reason to praise him, since one does not know whether he will remain a righteous person.
This is the reason the Torah states [a few verses later], "And Yosef was in Egypt."5Rashi comments: "[What does this phrase come to teach us? We know that Yosef was in Egypt.] To let us know about Yosef's righteousness." Yosef's righteousness endured from the beginning [of his life] till the end [of his life], for "at the end everything becomes known."6 Therefore the praise [of Yosef] was recounted after "they put him into a coffin in Egypt." And this is the reason [the Jewish people] are compared to the stars, which appear after the sun sets. Similarly, after a man's sun sets [i.e., after his death], it is apparent whether his righteousness endured until the end [of his life].
This is what the verse "He who causes many to become righteous will shine like the stars forever"7 means [in its reference to stars]: if someone causes others to become righteous, he will not sin, so that he will not go to Gehinnom while his disciples go to Gan Eden.8 It is a certainty9 [even in his lifetime] that his light will continue to shine like the stars forever, even after his death. However, if one does not cause others to become righteous, it is not certain that he will remain righteous forever.
Regarding our Sages' statement10 [quoted by Rashi], that [the Jewish people] are compared to the stars, which God counts as He takes them out and brings them in, the use of the word "coming," in the present tense, and then "a man and his family came," in the past tense, hints at this.
The verse speaks of two "comings." One is when [the original seventy souls] came to Egypt with Yaakov, each man with his wife and family - they already came [past tense]. In that first coming with Yaakov Avinu, each man came with his wife and family. But now that the Torah wishes to discuss their death, which is also called a "coming," it is as if they were coming now, since they died [in Egypt] and remained there. That is the second coming, in the present tense.
This [second coming] does not include Yaakov, for they all died, but Yaakov did not "die." Also, this [second] coming is not described as being together with the family, for a wife and children do not accompany a person beyond the grave, as indicated by a parable in Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer,11 and therefore [when discussing the death of the tribes] it does not mention "a man and his family." This proves that the verse is describing both their arrival in [Egypt] and their "departure" [i.e., their death], for both are referred to as a "coming." [And thus this is a reference to God counting them when they came to Egypt and when they departed, like the stars He counts as He brings them in and takes them out.]
The reason for the counting was to indicate the merit [of the Jewish people], because anything of value is counted, as will be explained, with God's help, in parashas Ki Sissa.12
Regarding the merits of a righteous person who has died, it is written, "My wanderings you yourself have counted; place my tears in your flask - are they not included in your count?"13 This verse was interpreted by our Sages as referring to one who sheds tears upon [the death] of a righteous person.14
However, the phrase "Are they not included in your count?" requires explanation. It seems [that the phrase] is used to point out the uniqueness of the virtue of a righteous person who dies, that [his life] was not a waste and had substance. [Thus] it says, "Are they not included in Your count?" You [God] certainly include them in your count [for they have worth]. I beseech that You count my wanderings [i.e., tribulations] as well and place my tears in Your flask for safekeeping.