Parshas Devarim (5773)
Around ten years ago I had to prepare a class for students on the topic of how to change the world and make it a better place. After doing some serious research, I came to the conclusion that those who made a big difference in the world throughout history – from great leaders of the ancient world like Abraham and Moses all the way down to modern heroes like Martin Luther King – all had to go through the same six steps (at least) listed below.
As we are presently in what is traditionally known as the “Three Weeks”, a period in which we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and our exile from the Land of Israel, and when we remind ourselves that all is not right with the world and that there is so much that needs to be fixed, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you my class on How to Change the World in Six (Easy?) Steps.
[To make the class a bit more exciting and less tedious, I decided to illustrate each of the Six Steps with assorted quotes, humorous and otherwise. I hope you like it.]
1. STOP TO THINK – in order to fix the world , one first has to take the time out of his busy life to reflect on the world around him, yet sadly so many never stop to do even this.
“Did you ever stop to think …and not start again?” – Anonymous
“One of the tricks of the Yetzer Hara (the Evil Inclination) is to make a person become too involved in his work so that he has no time to think about where he is going in life .... and this is much like the advice that Pharoah gave when he said 'Let the work be heavier upon the men', that his intention was not only to deprive them of any time in which they could scheme against him, but to stop the people from thinking about anything in their lives, by virtue of their persistent and interminable labor.” – Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in Path of the Just (Chapter 2)
“Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do.” - Bertrand Russell
2. IDENTIFY THE REALITY – even as we reflect on the world around us, it takes a certain wisdom to discern what the real issues are that need to be addressed.
“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are.” – Anonymous
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” - Albert Einstein
“I find the greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
3. LOVE TO CARE – some people know what’s wrong with the world but just don’t care enough about their fellow human beings to make a difference.
“Be like students of Aaron – love peace, pursue peace, love people, and draw them close to the Torah.” – Hillel the Elder
“Apathy is the glove into which evil slips its hand.” - Bodie Thoene
“We were put here on earth to serve others – but what are the others here for?” - Anonymous
4. RESIST SOCIAL PRESSURE – the ability to do the right thing – and effect positive change in the world - no matter what people might think and say, is what separates the men from the boys.
“Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” - G-d in Genesis 12:1
“When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong.” - Eugene Debs
“Before deciding what to do based on public opinion, decide what your opinion is of the public.” – Rabbi Zee
5. KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS – you can’t fix everything, so you have to know what you’re good at, and in what area you were meant to contribute to fixing the world around you, and what you can leave to others to do.
“A man lives with himself for seventy years – yet he does not know himself.” - Rabbi Yisrael Salanter
“Always remember you’re unique – just like everyone else.” - Anonymous
6. ACT WITH THE POWER OF A HIGHER POWER – realize that you don’t have to complete the entire job yourself – which seems like a crazy amount of work and almost impossible to achieve – because G-d is on your side and He will help you and guide you so long as you put in a sincere effort.
“Na’aseh V’Nishma … We will do and we will understand” - The Jewish People in Exodus 24:7
“In order to act you must be somewhat insane. A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with thinking.” - George Clemenceau
“Success comes in cans, not in cannots” - Anonymous