June 12, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 12, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins a 10-day period of introspection and repentance, reaching its apex at the Day of Atonement. Collectively, this time period is referred to as the Days of Awe. The great medieval sage Maimonides highlighted what this sense of awe entails: “Every person should see him or herself throughout the year as if he or she is half innocent and half guilty, and so too should be his or her view of the world—as half innocent and half guilty. If the person were to do one bad thing, then the judgment of that person—and of the whole world—would be weighed toward the side of guilty; and if the person were to do one good thing, then the judgment of that person—and of the whole world—would be weighed toward the side of innocent.” This internal viewpoint, suggested by Maimonides as a device for repentance, can be very powerful and also very instructive.

To me, one of the amazing takeaways from this statement of Maimonides is that one person can be found to have a profound impact on the entire world. Now I know that all of us as parents and as educators often say to our children, “You can make a difference; you can grow up to change the world.” I think that when we say that we probably mean the following: “Who knows? One day you may be a great leader and effect positive change in many people; you may invent or discover something that will make a profound impact in the lives of many people.” And that is certainly possible. But… I draw a slightly different lesson from the words of Maimonides. The one person to whom he refers as possibly indicting the world or saving it is not doing something grandiose or momentous. He or she is not performing some amazing, spectacular feat in public. Rather, he or she is doing one simple act—a kindness, a turn toward wisdom—most often privately, and thereby affects the world. This is a “spiritual butterfly effect” that tends to go completely unnoticed.

There is a beautiful lesson drawn from the Sages about the two events of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Moses received the first set of Tablets with the entire nation gathered around the mountain; there was a great display of sound and light—an absolutely spectacular, miraculous occurrence. And then the people sinned with the Golden Calf and Moses smashed the Tablets, and he had to go up the mountain once again to receive the second set of Tablets. This time there was no public gathering, no great sound and light display. This was a quiet and modest rendezvous with the Almighty. The Sages point out that it was the second set of Tablets—the ones from this modest event—that lasted intact.

Our children—and ourselves—can surely make a great, positive difference in this world and for this world. Some will do so with great fanfare. Most can—and hopefully will—do so in everyday small actions that will reverberate, silently, throughout the world. That idea is truly awesome—and adds to the spirit of the Days of Awe.

Rosh Hashanah coincides with the beginning of the school year. After a year and a half of challenges in our communities and in our schools we had hoped that we could begin the year with a complete sense of normalcy—as if the pandemic had never happened. Alas, this is not yet to be. But the challenge gives rise to opportunity. The opportunity to teach our children that each one of them can make a momentous difference. Not necessarily loudly—but just as real as any public display. We can each reflect, introspect, turn toward wisdom, and treat each other with loving kindness—and each single action and attitude in this manner makes a huge difference in the world. May this new year be filled with health, happiness, fulfillment and meaning for all of humanity, one small step at a time.


Rabbi Saul Zucker serves as head of school of Ben Porat Yosef, an Orthodox yeshiva day school in Paramus, NJ.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles