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Lessons We Live With: One Person, Cosmic Impact

Ahead of Gimmel Tammuz, Lubavitch.com asked Shluchim to share a teaching of the Rebbe that informs their approach to shlichus, and their lives. 

As a Shliach in one of America’s most remote cities, I often find myself negotiating the rigors of offering up a class or program for a small handful of Jews. I savor the opportunity, because it allows me to focus on each individual and to be fully invested in what I’m doing.

Celebrating each person is something I learned from the Rebbe.

There’s a famous parable that goes something like this:

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy picking up and throwing things into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?” The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” The man laughed to himself and said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and thousands of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference to that one.”

Lots of people are inspired by this story. It’s a powerful nugget, but I still find myself wanting. It’s as if we are turning a blind eye to the fact that our actions provide limited relief. Don’t worry about the big picture. You can’t really help everyone, so settle for second best.

The Talmud teaches us that anyone who sustains one soul is credited as if he sustained an entire world.

Is this because every person’s life is precious and infinite? Undoubtedly. However, we didn’t need the Talmud to teach us that. There must be a more profound message.

The value of a solitary individual is not simply due to their own priceless worth.  The Rebbe insisted that each person is an entire world because of what they have to give. And, that is irreplaceable. Save one person and you have saved all the people, places and future generations that this one person will impact. And, no one else can achieve that in their stead.  A person is truly a world.

We aren’t only “making a difference to that one.” We are creating a revolution of cosmic proportions – by focusing on one individual.

There’s a world of difference between these approaches. I’m not only touched by the smiles I have the privilege to create, the lives I seek to uplift and the mitzvos I encourage. I’m touched by the countless, unknowable acts and lives that are changed by the single person I interact with.

This is a message that reminds me every day how fortunate I am to serve in my sacred role – and pushes me to connect with one more person.

Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz is director of Chabad Jewish Center in Boise, Idaho

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