Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one sinner destroys much good. — Ecclesiastes 9:18
In a world of seven billion people, it’s hard to feel like what we do has a significant impact on anything. Yet, Judaism teaches that we must feel that the entire world is riding on our shoulders.
In Ecclesiastes we read: “one sinner destroys much good.” The Jewish sages explained that every person must see his or her good deeds and bad ones in perfect balance on a scale. One more good deed, and the scales will tip in the person’s favor; one more sin and the scales will tip to the other side.
Similarly, we must see the world – all seven billion of us – as one collective whole, who, like an individual, is also in constant assessment. The scale is likewise in precise balance with good on one side and evil on the other. Every person must feel as though his or her one act – either good or evil – can tip the scale in any given moment. What I am doing right now can doom the world or bring about salvation.
While this situation is unlikely to exist, in theory, it could. God does judge each of us as individuals and the world as a whole. And because the situation could theoretically arise that our one deed could make all the difference, we are required to live our lives as if it does.
We are the world.
This is the exact opposite approach to living life thinking that nothing we do matters. When we think that our actions bear little or no significance, what point is there in pushing ourselves to be extra kind, to be honest, to reach out to someone in need? If our actions don’t really matter, what harm is there if we cheat just a little, engage in sinful acts just a bit, or treat someone badly?
This is what Solomon was addressing when he wrote that “one sinner destroys much good.” Just one sin can tip the scales the wrong way, doing a lot of damage.
But if one sin can destroy it all, the opposite is equally true and one good deed can repair everything and result in unfathomable benefit. Each of us has tremendous power. If only we recognized the power God has placed in our hands to do good and repel evil, we would all live more productive lives, full of meaning and contribution.
Today, let us act as if each of our actions can determine the fate of the world. How might our choices differ from those we make every other day? How might our life be different if we truly lived like this every day?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President