Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7
We begin our new year of readings with the Torah portion, Bereishit, meaning "in the beginning," from Genesis 1:1 6:8, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 42:5 21.
At the end of the movie Schindler's List, a film about Oskar Schindler who saved more than a thousand Jews during the Holocaust, one of the survivors presented Schindler with a ring inscribed with words that read: "He who saves one life saves an entire world."
These words were taken from the Talmud which asks a question in relation to this week's Torah portion where God creates man. The Jewish sages ask why God chose to create only one man when creating humanity. Why not start with 50 people or more? They answer that God wanted to teach us the power of one person. From one person, Adam, came the entire world. Therefore, "He who saves one life saves an entire world" means that there are worlds of possibilities of what each person might accomplish. In fact, there's no end to the number of people a person might impact, both in the present and the future.
The late actor/comedian Robin Williams was once interviewed on German television. The interviewer asked Williams, "Why do you think that there are so few comedians in Germany?" Williams replied, "Did you ever think that maybe you killed them all?" In black humor fashion, Williams was alluding to the fact that the Holocaust wiped out millions of lives, including six million Jews. How many future comedic stars were gassed in the death camps?
But take this idea one step further and you get this chilling thought: Maybe the person who could have cured cancer was killed in a Nazi death camp. Maybe the individual who would have brought an end to world hunger met his or her end at the hands of Nazi murderers. Maybe Anne Frank would have become one of the world's greatest writers. We will never know what we lost as a world community with the deaths of so many people.
However, on a more positive note, this idea of the power of one person can inspire and motivate us. Today, there are about seven billion people on the planet. It's easy for a person to feel that he or she does not matter. After all, what value am I in a sea of billions? But God wants us to know that each of us is an entire world and has unimaginable potential.
There is a reason why you and I were created at this time with the talents and treasures that we possess. The Talmud also teaches that each person needs to say, "God created the world just for me," meaning it is up to each of us to take care of it and make it better.
When each individual is involved in doing that, there is no limit to what one person might accomplish with God's help.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President