Israel is beset by complex, painful, seemingly inscrutable issues. Yet, perhaps because it is a young, tiny land, it is brimming with people who live their lives knowing they can make a difference. In our circle of friends, we know inspiring people who have found or created a niche to which they passionately devote themselves with the conviction that what they do really matters.
The areas are diverse, improving the environment, caring for the huge population of birds who migrate through this land, reaching out to new emigres, mapping fault-lines in the region so that all of the inhabitants will be more prepared in an emergency, and, especially reaching out across the lines of conflict between Arabs and Jews to create grassroots relationships in preparation for a time of peace.
Of course this idea that each of us really counts is basic in Jewish thought. The Mishnah in Sanhedrin testifies that each person is equivalent to an entire world. A very eloquent statement is contributed by Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Tamaret:
“When the Holy one, blessed be He, stated at the time of Creation,
‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,’ He thereby
placed in man’s hands the power to create worlds as He had done.
And if it be true, as our sages affirm, that man affects even the
higher spheres, then how much more must he affect this very earth
itself. Certainly his own situation is shaped by his own hand. The
effect of society upon him is but the harvest of those deeds previously
sown by him in this world. Good actions set good waves
moving in the air, and a man performing good acts soon purifies
the air which surrounds him. Evil actions poison the atmosphere,
and a man’s evil acts pollute the air until finally he himself breathes
the poisonous vapors, and such actions flow from all the actions of
a man, whether physical or mental. Were the eye able to perceive
it, we should see that when a man raises his fist against another
man, the air surrounding him is filled with waving fists; that when
a man raises a foot to kick another man, the air registers feet raised
high and aimed at him; that when a man casts a designing eye upon
another man, the atmosphere reveals designing eyes aimed at him;
and that when a man stands inert as clay while another’s blood
is shed, the air surrounding him is filled with congealed lumps
awaiting the hour when his own blood will be shed.
(Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamaret, Musar Hatorah v’Hayahadut (Vilna: Garber,
1912), translated in Allan Solomonow, Roots of Jewish Nonviolence (Nyack, NY:
Jewish Peace Fellowship, 1981), p. 58.)
The dream of creating a better world is rooted in our confidence that we can work to make it happen. Rabbi Nachman of Breslav famously taught: “Know that if you can cause ruin, you can also repair and perfect.”
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