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I Am Just One Person

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” Voltaire

At Schechter Bergen, every morning begins with schoolwide announcements that include daily birthday wishes, the Pledge of Allegiance, the bracha for Torah study, and a quote of the day.  My hope is that the morning quote will cause our students and staff to pause and think about how the lesson might impact their learning for the day. 

This past Tuesday I chose: “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”  This quote resonated with me.  

It stunned me to think how easy it is to hide behind the masses, like a single snowflake, and convince ourselves that we, alone, make no difference and therefore, are not responsible for the repercussions of our actions. 

It is easy to believe that an individual has no real impact in the world.  There are billions of people on the earth – what can one person do?  

Decisions we make and things we say everyday seem so insignificant and yet, they can possibly have large consequences – consequences we may never personally know about. I struggle with this reality as I try to use my voice.  Who am I? Why does what I think even matter?  Why bother to write a blog that maybe a few people read each week? Is it hubris? Arrogance? Or is it based on my optimistic hope that even influencing one person for the better can change the world, or more realistically affect that one person. I know that I have certainly been influenced by the ideas of others – I hope for the better.

Perhaps the blog I wrote on wearing masks changed the mind of one person who then didn’t infect another, resulting in potentially dire consequences.  We can’t know.

Our Jewish tradition teaches us that to save one soul is to save the world and to destroy one soul is to destroy the world.  Have over 425,000 people died in this country, more than any other country per capita, because too many people abdicate their responsibility as the one insignificant snowflake in an avalanche? 

Even in our daily “mundane” lives it is easy to believe:

  • I am just one person – I can throw my trash on the ground; my trash makes no difference.
  • I am just one person – someone else will wait and hold the door for the approaching elderly person.
  • I am just one person – I do not need to vote; my vote makes no difference.
  • I am just one person – I do not need to give $1 to fight hunger, for my $1 makes no difference.
  • I am just one person – I do not need to write a letter of protest against an injustice, for my words will not be read.
  • I am just one person – I do not need to attend a rally in support of a just cause. No one will count just me.
  • I am just one person – my words of gossip and hate will have no impact on others or the person I speak against.

To the contrary, while one vote seemingly does not make a difference in an election, it is one vote that declares the winner, and we literally just experienced that this year. Your one dollar and my one dollar quickly adds up to feed a hungry child right here in our community for a week. One can of soup may sit in your pantry for months, while my one can might provide a meal that makes a huge difference in the life of a hungry person.

I believe in the power of one. One individual, taking responsibility for their actions, one person at a time choosing justice and doing the right thing, changes the world.

It is not the world leader who changes the world; it is each person in each family. Imagine if every parent modeled for their children and ultimately taught their children to do the right thing – show compassion, be respectful, help others, pursue peace and tolerance of others – imagine every family in every corner of the world – one parent and one child at a time – imagine the power of the one! We are each responsible and it does matter.  Together one person at a time, we can create an avalanche of Justice, compassion, inclusivity, equality, hope, and peace and we can begin today!

8 Comments

  • renee van naarden - January 28, 2021

    The Power of One … powerful!

    Reply
    • Daphna Avizov - January 29, 2021

      100% spot on! People need to take more ownership of their actions or lack thereof. Excellent lessons here, thank you.

      Reply
  • Elaine schlossberg - January 28, 2021

    perfect. The best lesson there is!!!

    Reply
  • Benjamin Sommer - January 28, 2021

    Thanks, Steve, for a beautiful and important teaching.
    Maimonides says something similar:
    צריך כל אדם שיראה עצמו כל השנה כולה, כאילו חצייו זכאי וחצייו חייב; וכן כל העולם, חצייו זכאי וחצייו חייב: חטא חטא אחד–הרי הכריע עצמו והכריע את כל העולם כולו לכף חובה, וגרם להם השחתה; עשה מצוה אחת–הרי הכריע את עצמו והכריע את כל העולם כולו לכף זכות, וגרם להן תשועה והצלה.
    הלכות תשובה פרק ג:ד
    “Every person should seem himself all year long as if he were 50% innocent and 50% guilty, and he should see the whole world as if it were 50% innocent and 50% guilty. If he commits a single sin — he has determined for himself that he is guilty, and for the whole world that it is guilty. Thus he has caused the world’s destruction. If he fulfills a single commandment — he has determined for himself that he is innocent, and for the whole world that it is innocent. And [thus through that single action] he has brought about the redemption.”
    Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance, 3:4

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - January 28, 2021

      And thank you, Dr. Sommer, for sharing this teaching from the Mishneh Torah.

      Reply
  • Beryl J. Steinbach - January 29, 2021

    I, too, believe in the power of one. One person, Raoul Wallenberg, chose to do the right thing and saved thousands of Jews in Budapest during the Holocaust. Thankfully, Wallenberg saved my dad and two of his siblings.

    The Wallenberg Foundation in NJ used to have an annual challenge entitled, “The Power of One.” Students submitted descriptions of their community service, and the Foundation gave cash awards to many of those fine students who exemplified the power of one. The Foundation no longer offers that challenge. Perhaps Schechter could continue what the Foundation began.

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - January 31, 2021

      Hi Beryl – Thank you for sharing this. Love the idea.

      Reply
  • Nanette Jiji - February 4, 2021

    I was moved to read your comment Beryl, thank you for sharing! Great topic Mr. Freedman!

    Reply

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