Our words and actions can impact the entire world – really! A kind word or an act of helpfulness in a child’s life or an adult’s life can literally change the trajectory of that person’s path, and we may never know that our acts were the catalyst for that change.
One of our great rabbis, the Rambam, in his book on the laws of repentance, teaches that we, and the entire world, are judged by the majority of our deeds. He writes that “we should see ourselves throughout the year as if our deeds and those of the world are evenly poised between good and bad, so that our next act may change both the balance of our lives and that of the world.” Think about the power of that idea.
Imagine a child, struggling in a science class, and thinking she is “bad at it.” A patient and loving teacher works with and encourages her until the student masters the concept, and gains confidence. Without knowing it, the teacher changes this child’s attitude towards science, and the child grows up to be a researcher who cures cancer! The teacher changed the world for good, and may never know it. This scenario could happen someday.
Imagine another child who comes from an angry home where the parents neglect the child. At school, however, the child is embraced by a teacher who shows love, and compassion, and gives of her time to help. Someday he grows up, and becomes a parent himself. Instead of remembering how his parents treated him, he recalls the teacher who cared for him, and he turns out to be a loving and supportive father. This not only could happen; I am sure it does happen.
Through his teaching, Rambam is alerting us to the enormous power each one of us possesses in our words and actions. We may not see ourselves as having influence, and yet, our words, at any given moment, or our actions, can have a ripple effect through time and space — for good or for bad.
As Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur quickly approach, now is an appropriate time to reflect on how blessed we are to be a part of the Jewish people, which places tremendous value on acts of kindness and respectful speech. At Hillel Day School, a central goal is to help our students internalize this value, which has been passed down from one generation to the next. Our teachers model the power of words and action in the way they relate to our children, and one another. In so doing, they embody the value of Kedushah, a sense of sacredness and holiness that elevates each individual, and guides our relationships with one another, and with God.
Living our lives with Kedushah helps us to see that life is sacred, and our relationships should be regarded in that light. Practically speaking, we don’t have to be friends with or even like a person to be cognizant of the fact that our words and actions have the power to change a life, and the world. This core principle of Judaism is powerful; it frames how we view humanity, and it demands of us to act in a way that sanctifies our lives and the lives of those around us.
We have a full school year ahead in which your children will learn much: above all else, I hope that they – and we all who have influence over the lives of children – learn that words and actions can tip the balance for good in this world. May this opportunity to be a catalyst for good in the world be a reason you have chosen Hillel Day School for your children.