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The Power of One Person (Vayahkel 02/26/22)

The Power of One Person
My idealism has come back down to earth. Naively, I had presumed that the painful lessons of the 20th century would have taught us that armed warfare is not the way to solve a conflict, yet here we go again. The selfishness of a bully negates peaceful negotiations, and the lamb is forced to resort to tanks and bombs. We have succumbed to the capriciousness of seemingly one individual. May God protect Ukraine’s citizens and armies and give them the strength and wherewithal to overcome the enemy.
Two weeks ago, as we read the episode of the Golden Calf, I noted an anomaly that echoes our current situation. The Torah describes the violators as “the people,” yet in truth, it was only a minute fraction of our clan (Exodus 32):
“When the people saw that Moses was late in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that fellow Moses—the man who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.”
And all the people took off the gold rings that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.”
Yet, when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and sets things right, they only punish a limited few:
“The men of Levi did as Moses had bidden, and some three thousand of the people fell that day.”
If 600,000 people left Egypt, 3000 is just 0.5%. It’s a lesson that sheer numbers are not necessarily relevant. Rather, the gauge is if those actions represent the people.
Likewise, in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021, the number of people who tried to usurp the Government was much less than 0.5% of the American public. Nonetheless, they represented our country and our national shame.
Sometimes, even one person can bear a national burden. In biblical times, Achan ben Carmi was one such person. As we crossed the Jordan intent on conquering the first Canaanite city, the people swore to donate the spoils of war to the Tabernacle (Joshua 7).
“The Israelites, however, violated the proscription: Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of that which was proscribed, and the LORD was incensed with the Israelites.”
Why should all the people be held guilty because of one person? Sometimes, that person represents the people. For example, didn’t we all feel embarrassed when Jewish Bernie Madoff committed one of the greatest thefts in history?
In Egypt, the destruction of the entire country fell upon one man’s shoulders: Pharoah. His advisors beg him to capitulate (Exodus 10):
“Pharaoh’s courtiers said to him, “How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let the people go to worship their God! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?”
Yet, Pharoah, one person, brought his nation to ruin. We could say the same about Hitler. Hopefully, Putin will come to his senses before the Russian economy, and more importantly, the Ukraine is beyond repair.
Yet, even if he doesn’t, it is still a lesson in the power of the few or even one.
And if one person can cause so much damage, one person can also cause as much beneficence. Two weeks ago, I attended an ADL webinar highlighting the work of Dr. Georgette Bennett. Upon hearing of the plight of the Syrian refugees, she, being a daughter of Holocaust survivors, pledged that “Never Again” applies to all people. Working with NGOs and the Israeli government, she organized $220 million in food and aid to help these stranded and forlorn people. To know more, see her book “Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By: How One Woman Confronted the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of Our Time.”
Sometimes, we may feel impotent and insignificant in the crowd. Yet, small numbers of people can make a huge difference; often, even one person. So, let’s believe in our ability to better the world around us for good, for as we see, even one person can have a major impact.
One easy step you can do now is to help the Ukrainian people in need.
Here are two worthy organizations that will help those seeking healing, food, and shelter:
ORT Ukraine Emergency Fund – please click here
HIAS – please click here
The Chassidic rabbi, Rav Nachman of Breslov, used to say, “If you believe you can damage, believe that you can fix.” Now is the time to embrace our strong individual powers to fix and bring healing.
Wishing the Ukrainians and peace seekers across the world a better week,
R’ Neil

Manetto Hill Jewish Center
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