Thursday, August 22, 2019

Greatness is Found in Small Gestures

My favorite article this week was on, the news wire for Major League Baseball. The article by Mandy Bell began as follows:

“Yasiel Puig said Monday’s off-day changed his life. The Indians outfielder took advantage of his first free day in three weeks to rent a helicopter that would fly him to visit Camp Simcha in New York’s Catskill Mountains….. “

The writer goes on to describe how Puig joined the kids on the dance floor, crowd surfed throughout the room, received a tour of the campgrounds, made candles, played catch and paid a visit to the infirmary to sit with a child who was too sick to participate in the group activities. The trip was very impactful; for the kids, but more so for Yasiel Puig himself.

“The Tribe slugger spent four hours at the campsite, struggling to convince himself to get back to the city to prepare for Tuesday’s game. He entered the day expecting to give kids advice on how to stay strong through difficult times, but it was Puig who left feeling inspired.
“[A boy] started talking about baseball, saying, ‘I love the way you play. Keep going, fight,’” Puig said. “And I said, ‘Oh, I’m the one coming here to tell you to keep fighting and everything will be fine, and you’re the one telling me to keep going, fight and work hard' -- and that made my day.”

The minute that he left, Puig began asking how soon they could return to visit with the kids. He wanted to make an impact, moving others to take advantage of their free time to visit with children in need. Although he may not know whether he’s influenced others to follow in his footsteps, he now knows his actions have been noticed throughout the world.”

You don’t have to be a sports superstar to make an impact on others. And it doesn’t require big actions to create huge impact. Our Parsha is named Ekev. The word “ekev” is difficult to translate. In many translations it is difficult to pinpoint the exact translation of the word. Rashi quotes the Midrashic tradition that translates the word as a heel, the bottom of your foot. Here Moshe is saying that we should be careful with seemingly insignificant mitzvot that we might discard and kick aside with our heel. Even such light mitzvot can have enormous impact. 

It is often those actions that are performed away from the limelight and with little fanfare that can be so meaningful and important. It is not surprising that Moshe teaches this lesson at the end of his life. The most humble of all Jewish leaders was also the most impactful. This lesson is evoked again later in Parshat Ekev, through the juxtaposition of these two verses (10: 17-18)

For the Lord, your God, is God of gods and the Lord of the lords, the great mighty and awesome God, Who will show no favor, nor will He take a bribe. He executes the judgment of the orphan and widow, and He loves the stranger, to give him bread and clothing.

Rabbi Yochanan notes that God’s greatness is evoked alongside His “humility” ie concern for those who are often overlooked in society: widow, orphan, stranger. The lesson is that greatness is most evident in humble actions. To enjoy big and bold success we ought to practice the art of humility and appreciate the value of small deeds.

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