By Chazal tell us, “Gadol Ham’aseh, yoser min ha’oseh,” greater is the one who causes someone to do a mitzvah than the one who actually does it. Following this reasoning, the one who collects tzedakah gets greater reward than the one giving it, presumably because he initiated the action. I’ve heard one reason we stand for “Vayevarech Dovid,” in Shacharis is because that’s when the Shamash would go around with the Pushka and people would stand for him, much as people stood when people bringing Bikkurim to the Bais HaMikdash would pass their shops in Jerusalem. (Not just to be able to close their eyes and pretend they were in Shemona Esrai so they don’t have to give.)
Well, I got to experience that recently and it gave me an idea. I have a friend who is a writer but lately I hadn’t seen anything from him. I asked him about it and he told me it’s hard to think of things to write. I jokingly tossed out a one-liner, and he took that and turned it into a whole column! I was amazed at how he took one little thing and grew it with ease.
I was even more amazed as I realized the potential we each have to impact the world in a big way. Think about it: if I gave this guy a few words, and he was able to build a whole column around them, imagine how much could be built by a few key words in other areas?
Hillel was famously asked to teach someone the whole Torah “while standing on one leg.” He told him, “What you don’t like, don’t do to someone else.” Was that really the whole Torah? Of course not, but it was a foundation the man could use to build his Judaism around. It was the seed he needed to grow a forest.
R’ Akiva had thousands of talmidim. Once, his wife (who was unknown to the students) came to see him and they pushed her away. R’ Akiva stopped them and said, “Everything I have, and everything you have, is hers,” referring to all the Torah he had taught his Talmidim. Did Rachel really teach R’ Akiva all the Torah he knew? Not at all, but as the Ran there (Nedarim 50a) says, “It belongs to her because she was the one who gave me the idea to go to Yeshiva.” (Thanks for that, R’ Paysach!)
In other words, her idea, that it would be a good thing for him to learn Torah, meant she was responsible for all the Torah that he, his 24,005 talmidim, and we, would learn as a result of her suggestion. The takeaway from here is that we can give people good ideas and reap the fruits of those influences.
Imagine you helped someone find a job. He is now able to support his wife and family, marry off his children, and be a productive member of society. At what point does your impact stop being felt? Wouldn’t you say that the mitzvos of his grandchildren, made possible by the upbringing of their parents, and the homes that they built, all owe their existence to the act you did of helping find that job? At no time does what you did cease being pivotal to the rest of the story. And that’s a powerful thing.
Did you encourage someone to pursue a career in helping people? Teach someone an insight in Torah? You are responsible for all those who benefit from their activities. Lives saved or changed, lessons taught, whatever it is, it’s all thanks to your initial small investment.
Of course, it shouldn’t go to your head, so that you start thinking you actually learned all that Torah or raised those children, but it should make you excited to properly direct others when you have the opportunity. For example, I have several friends who write weekly Parsha sheets (as I do, e-mail email@example.com to subscribe) because I either suggested it or encouraged them to do so and keep it going. I’m extremely proud of those things because I know I made a positive impact on the world.
I also try to be careful with any potential negative influences, because I know the flip side of this. I mean, where do kids learn to take off their Tefillen early at the end of davening, or to discuss what people are wearing or saying and rendering their judgments and opinions, if not from someone who was doing it first?
Listen, I have an idea. Why don’t you try to see who you may have influenced, inspired, or motivated in a very small way some time ago, and reflect on the results you see today? You might be very surprised to realize just how big an impact you had on their lives, and those of others, simply by planting a seed. Then, you can look for more opportunities to give others an idea, and we’ll all get a whole lot smarter.
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