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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - September 2020
From the Rabbi - September 2020 PDF Print E-mail
In the midst of challenging times it's wonderful to be able to read a genuinely uplifting story about human kindness.  It’s even better when such a story is about a child in our own community.  Recently Isla Loeb, one of our youngest members and a student at the JCC pre-school, decided to do a wonderful mitzvah project.  While playing with the tzedakah tin at the JCC she asked whether poor people had toothbrushes and that led to her deciding to raise money and collect toothbrushes and toothpaste for homeless people in our city.  She wanted to make a difference and help those in need in her own inspirational way.  

Such tzedakah (charity) is a central theme of the High Holidays.  We are told that each of us is judged on Rosh Hashanah but that our judgement can be changed for the better by repentance, prayer and charity.  Where repentance connects us to our true selves, and prayer connects us to God, giving tzedakah connects us to our fellow human beings.  It reminds us that changing our fate in the coming year is not just about us.  It is about how we make the world better for others.  Our own fate is intricately tied to that of others and our self-fulfillment cannot exist apart from those with whom we share our world.  As Isla understood in her own way when she asked her question about whether poor people had toothbrushes, we are connected to one another and responsible for one another and we are all responsible for those around us, those who are close to us, our friends and family, and, as the Bible commands, “ the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst.”  

The power of tzedakah is that our judgement for the past year may be sealed but our fate and the fates those we can help in the year to come is not.  The amount of those who go hungry, who are oppressed, who are abused and neglected, who are homeless, and so many other calamities, their fate can be changed.  We can ease the burdens of the needy, give comfort to the afflicted and strength to the downtrodden.  We cannot control the challenges the world may throw at us but we can work to make the world a better and fairer place, a place in which people, when faced with events beyond their control, are not destroyed by them.

And Isla’s story reminds us that no matter who we are we can all make a difference, however small.  There is a story of a man who is walking on a beach and sees that there are lots of starfish stranded and dying along the shore.  He comes across a child carefully picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean.  The man asks why the child was doing this.  “Surely you don’t think you can save them all?”  “No” said the child while throwing a starfish into the ocean, “but I can save that one.” 

Each of us can do our part to change both our own fates and those of the poor and needy in our community.  And we can learn from children like Isla by being open to the childlike but powerful hope that our actions can, and will, make a difference.  

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel



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