The purpose of that which is beyond the Earth’s atmosphere is what I would like to be expounded. I’m familiar with Genesis chapter 1, (please hold your applause), and the reasons given there. But more specifically I want to know about the purpose (or role in the scheme of creation) of such celestial bodies as planets, asteroids, meteors, and others, like galaxies, black holes, supernovas, et cetera.
For anyone interested: I did just come across Psalms 136:6, which is placed between two verses about the heavens. This I believe gives some context about what’s called “the firmament”.– AndrewJan 27 at 15:08
First, we must realize, as was pointed out by Rav Saadya Gaon in his Emunos Vedeyos (end of first section), that the question is not as great as it seems at first since there is no toil involved in God creating anything large or small. The size or complexity is no difference to the One of infinite wisdom. There only remains the question that if God did something it must have had a reason. While this is true, you don't have to find a tremendous reason to justify a giant creation, as long as there is some reason.
On to the next point. In Isaiah 40:26 the prophet says, 'Lift high your eyes and see: Who created these? He who sends out their host by count, Who calls them each by name: Because of His great might and vast power, Not one fails to appear.'
We find terms such as צבא השמים (such as Nechemiah 9:6) referring to the starts and planets. This all suggests that their actual purpose is to serve as honor guards of the Creator.
Had the sky been empty, we would look up at night and see plain black. This would make the world feel very small. Now that we have stars all around, this gives us a depth perspective. Now when we look up we see vastness. This can be compared to a vast army marching before and beside a king which is an honor to the king, and brings out his might and dominion.
When Isaiah says 'Who calls them each by name', this can be referring to the fact that no two areas of the sky look alike. There are no repeating patterns. And so, being unique is having their own identity, or name. This as well serves to amplify the feeling of greatness and magnitude of the creation, since rather than just being large it is plenty.
When we managed to venture into space, or send our cameras there, rather than demystifying the wonder, it only deepened. The picture we now see are truly beautiful, revealing systems inside systems.
One reason for their existence would be to serve as a channel of communication to bring blessings or curses. See that there is a consensus in the scientific community that correlates human events with the influence of the environment, for example the French revolution was only possible due to social disturbances caused by famine which in turn was caused by climate change, particularly a cold wave that harmed other than crops in Europe, the outbreak of the Black Death is also linked to altered weather patterns. So theologically you can understand that these changes caused by these celestial objects like the sun, moon and even the movement of the Earth serve as a mystical channel to bring good or bad things depending on human behavior and nations as a whole, in the Bible we see God more judging nations than individuals themselves.
I 100% support HaLeiVi's answer. As with everything Hashem does, there is an infinite amount to be said about it and I look forward to other answers too. This answer seeks to bring more to the table in answering this great question.
Firstly, some quick reasons for the stars:
- To calculate when the night begins (such as for when Shabbat goes out)
- To recognise Him (Yishayahu 40:26)
- To influence events
- So that He should be praised
- To enable free will, as it adds to the plausibility that Hashem does not exist, and the world is an accident, and we are not the centrepiece of His creation (chas veshalom)
- An expression of love and compassion from Hashem
I'd like to focus on that last point in this answer:
When Hashem made the moon smaller1, He committed His first "negative" action. This was the start of the concept of "necessary evil". For some reason, suffering and death is necessary. We don't see the good in it, how it connects us to Hashem's Essence, but everything that Hashem does is good and taking us to that great day, so there is a purpose behind these things and we look forward to the day when Hashem raises us up to a point where we can only see the good. Until then, Hashem asks us to bring a korban, on His behalf2,3.
pp. 32 of Heaven Exposed by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman (can read the whole thing here):
"I have another mitzvah for you. It has to do with the new moon. When it comes to that time, at the beginning of each month, I want you to bring a sin offering for Me"
"A sin offering for Who?" Moses asked.
"For Me. Because I have diminished the light of the moon. And because there is suffering and oppression in My world. And darkness."
"But God," Moses asked. "Why don't You just do away with the suffering?"
"That's your job, Moses...Until then, atone for Me."
Rashi, on Bereshit 1:16 brings the midrash on the purpose of the stars:
ואת הכוכבים. עַל יְדֵי שֶׁמִּעֵט אֶת הַלְּבָנָה הִרְבָּה צְבָאָיהָ לְהָפִיס דַּעְתָּהּ:
and the stars: Because He diminished the moon, He increased its hosts, to appease it. - [from Gen. Rabbah 46:4 and Chullin 60b] i.e., The stars serve as the entourage of the moon. When it comes out, they accompany it, and when it sets, they too set. [Gen. Rabbah ad loc.]
What we see from this, is that Hashem created the stars in an act of compassion and kindness. This whole project He started is a difficult one, that involves a lot of darkness. Hashem does not enjoy or even want us to suffer. It's a "necessary evil", and in an act of appeasement, in order to illuminate the world (literally, and metaphorically), He created galaxies. Whenever we see them, we remember that He hasn't forgotten us, despite all this darkness4:
אָמַר לָהּ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: בִּתִּי, שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר מַזָּלוֹת בָּרָאתִי בָּרָקִיעַ, וְעַל כׇּל מַזָּל וּמַזָּל בָּרָאתִי לוֹ שְׁלֹשִׁים חַיִל, וְעַל כׇּל חַיִל וְחַיִל בָּרָאתִי לוֹ שְׁלֹשִׁים לִגְיוֹן, וְעַל כׇּל לִגְיוֹן וְלִגְיוֹן בָּרָאתִי לוֹ שְׁלֹשִׁים רַהֲטוֹן, וְעַל כׇּל רַהֲטוֹן וְרַהֲטוֹן בָּרָאתִי לוֹ שְׁלֹשִׁים קְרָטוֹן, וְעַל כׇּל קְרָטוֹן וּקְרָטוֹן בָּרָאתִי לוֹ שְׁלֹשִׁים גַּסְטְרָא, וְעַל כׇּל גַּסְטְרָא וְגַסְטְרָא תָּלִיתִי בּוֹ שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת וְשִׁשִּׁים וַחֲמִשָּׁה אַלְפֵי רִבּוֹא כּוֹכָבִים כְּנֶגֶד יְמוֹת הַחַמָּה. וְכוּלָּן לֹא בָּרָאתִי אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ, וְאַתְּ אָמַרְתְּ ״עֲזַבְתַּנִי״ וּ״שְׁכַחְתַּנִי״?! The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Israel: My daughter, I created twelve constellations in the firmament, and for each and every constellation I have created thirty armies, and for each and every army I have created thirty legions [ligyon], and for each and every legion I have created thirty infantry division leaders [rahaton], and for each and every infantry division leader I have created thirty military camp leaders [karton], and for each and every military camp leader I have created thirty leaders of forts [gastera], and on each and every leader of a fort I have hung three hundred and sixty-five thousand stars corresponding to the days of the solar year. And all of them I have created only for your sake; and you said the Lord has forsaken me and the Lord has forgotten me?
As we can see, when we claim Hashem has forgotten us, He brings up the stars!
The opposite is also true. We are the stars in Hashem's night sky, so to speak.
May this answer be L'illui Nishmat Ben Chafetz and Boruch Taub z"l of Cleveland.
I once heard a beautiful quote from a Rabbi5: "darkness reveals the beauty of the night". Only when it is dark can we see the stars. When we see them, we see their beauty. As HaLeiVi wrote, the more we discover, the more amazing and beautiful the universe becomes. This is supposed to remind us that Hashem's plan is perfect. It may seem dark, and oppressive, and difficult, but we have to have emuna (ve'emunatecha baleilot) that He knows what He is doing, and the purpose everything serves is not just worth it, but it's the most amazing unfathomable goodness, a true Godly beauty, we can't ever imagine!
1 - https://www.sefaria.org/Chullin.60b.2
2 - See Rashi on Bamidbar 28:15
3 - Likutei Sichot, vol. 30, pp. 8-15. Sicha, Hoshanah Rabbah 5743
4 - https://www.sefaria.org/Berakhot.32b.16
5 - Rabbi Manis Friedman