Ask The Rabbi: Can I Really Make a Difference?
Dear Rabbi, I know that as a Jew I have a responsibility to “fix the world” and make it a better place for not only my generation, but for generations to come. How does Judaism teach to do this? Are we all obligated to go to some far-away place that is impoverished to hand out supplies from the UN? Thanks.
A great man once said, “When I was young I wanted to change the world. I got older and realized that it was unrealistic, so I decided to change my country. I got older and realized that it was also unrealistic, so I decided to change my town. As I grew older I realized that it too was an unrealistic goal, so I decided to change myself, and when I succeeded in changing myself, through that I was able to affect my town, my country and the world“.
If our focus is too global and too universal we will lose sight of our obligations to those around us and to ourselves as well. In addition, setting unrealistic, lofty goals will lead to disappointment and to a form of pious arrogance, where I look down upon others who are really just good, but not extraordinary people. Working for a living, supporting one’s family, giving charity, volunteering for good causes etc. are wonderful things. To be a good spouse, parent, child, sibling, neighbor, citizen is a full time job and not an easy one either. A profession in which one is able to achieve the above and also to help others is ideal – but that doesn’t mean necessarily digging sewers in under-developed countries. It may be being an honest, expert plumber; a caring physician; an honest businessman, providing many with employment – doing what one is talented at and capable of, while also being involved in spiritual, ethical growth, study of Torah, performance of mitzvot, and acts of kindness is noble, valuable and, in today’s world, heroic.
And, of course, you can also impact the world globally through political activism, your vote, your charitable contributions and volunteer work. But that doesn’t mean that being moral, raising moral children, creating community, and being a good member of that community is not impacting the world in a very significant and positive way!