Thursday, October 19, 2006

Jonathan Sacks – To heal a fractured world

Hashem OZ le’amo yiten. Tonight, OZ (well specifically us Melbourne yids) was hosting the Chief Rabbi. He began by sharing a teaching from the Rambam who suggested that the world is finely balanced between good and evil, so much so, that just one act either way has the potential to change the world in its entirety. Below are four holy people who put this principle into action. (Warning: If you don’t like shmultzy feel good “I can change the world” stories then stop reading here)

There was once a woman who travelled the world collecting all the starfish that were washed up on beaches. After she would pick up each starfish, she would throw it back into the sea, in order that it may have another chance at life. An adversary asked her, surely you don’t believe you can save all the starfish in the world. There must be hundreds of thousands of beaches in this world full of starfish, and then, millions of washed up starfish. As this woman threw another starfish into the sea she said, perhaps I cannot help all the starfish in the world, but I surely just made a difference to this one.

Professor David Baum
who was Britain’s leading Paediatrician and President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health from 1997-99 played a huge role in lowering infant mortality around the world through his advances in medical research. He travelled the world over, from Thailand to Moscow, establishing best practice child health care. He was also a proud religious Zionist. David Baum’s final endeavour was assisting in the establishment of a world-class paediatric facility for Palestinian children in Gaza City. The Chief Rabbi explained how David was a shinning example of how to heal a fractured world, which involves reaching out to our adversaries as much as our friends.

Sue Burns suffered from a debilitating disease named osteosclerosis which hospitalised her for her entire life. She was not even able to sit up straight in a chair. From her hospital bed, she acquired two computers and a telephone and established what is now known as the Tikva Helpline. This phone counselling service offers assistance to thousands of people with disabilities. She is the only ever recipient of an MBE from the Queen lying down. When the Chief rabbi came to see her in her final days, she ended up comforting him more than he did her. She said, perhaps Hashem needs me somewhere else now.

In the Genesis narrative of the great conspiracy by the sons of Yaacov to dispose of their brother Joseph, the Torah states what must be a false hood. Vayishma Reuven Veyatizleyhu miyadam – And Reuven heard (his brother's rage against Joseph) and he saved him from their hands; he said, 'let us not destroy a life.' (Genesis 37:21)

This must be false, because we know that the brothers did eventually sell Joseph as a slave. Rabbi Sacks explained that this is one instance where the Torah credits a person, for a good thought, even though the deed was never carried through. The midrash goes onto to add that had Reuven known that this pasuk would be written about him in the Torah, he would have saved Joseph.

Now if Reuven had saved Joseph, there would have been no exile in mitzrayim, and no redemption. But Reuven didn’t know what would be written in the Torah about him after his passing. Like Reuven (which is also my father’s name, alav hashalom) We don’t know what will be written about us in years to come. We don’t know how one act can make a difference.

Dear readers, I invite you to leave any thoughts in the comments section about an act of chessed you have performed. Who knows it may encourage others. If not, then just do it simply because you deserve to be congratulated. As the Chief Rabbi said continually, healing a fractured world is like a butterfly effect. It only takes one small act to transform our existence for the better.

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