After a big storm, thousands of starfish had washed up on a secluded beach.
One day, a man was walking down the beach and saw a stranger picking up one starfish at a time and throwing them back into the ocean. The man told the stranger he was wasting his time – that his effort alone wasn’t going to matter in the grand scheme of things. The stranger picked up another starfish, threw it into the ocean, and replied, “It mattered to that one.”
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own lives and completely forget to make the little efforts. To see a homeless man sitting in Starbucks and think one cup of coffee or a handful of change couldn’t possibly make a difference in their life. So, we do nothing. I think you’re right, a lot of the time we get lost in the idea that we need to have a giant impact on the world all at one time or our contribution is altogether meaningless. We don’t think it’s worth taking those small steps of service or making the small acts of kindness.
Our Sages put it this way: “A person is not given the opportunity for greatness until he is tested in the small things.” Moshe Rabenu, the greatest leader in Jewish history, started his career as the shepherd of someone else’s sheep. The same is true for King David: first a shepherd, then a king. A future Moshe Rabenu or a King David is entrusted with the destiny of the Jewish people only if first he is able to tend a flock with integrity and compassion and take care that the sheep don’t wander off and eat a bit of grass from someone else’s field.
Probably the most famous quote of the 20th Century was said by the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. It was heard by over 600 million listeners around the world.
As Armstrong stepped foot on the moon back in 1969, he uttered those famous words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
What a remarkable group of ten words which sum up so much.
Indeed, Armstrong’s small step with his foot (if one can describe any space motion as small) represented a marvellous achievement for humanity. But his message runs much deeper.
If each and every one of us starts taking small steps, then a large leap for human kind will follow.
Every little helps and every step is essential.
We are ten days from Rosh Hashanah, ten days into the New Year. What should be our focus?
On Rosh Hashanah we coronate The King of Kings – Hashem. Our focus is on the big picture.
Rosh Hashanah beckons us to take a panoramic view of our lives, all the while paying scant attention to the nuance that lies therein.
Yom Kippur, on the other hand, is just the opposite—entirely nuance: the tree, the leaves, and the nourishing roots, with barely a thought to the great forest in which we stand.
It’s a day of introspection; a day on which we ask forgiveness, realising and admitting our sins.
A day so powerful, bursting with potential.
A time we understand who we really are, where we have been and how we can improve going forwards.
But once we look into the past, we feel that it’s difficult to change.
Being realistic we say to ourselves, it’s not possible to conquer the world. We are who we are, and that’s how we will stay.
Yet on Yom Kippur a small voice from within radiates our essence.
How do you feel when you don’t have the food and drink you have so accustomed yourself to? Questions start arising as to direction in life, and your soul emanates from within, with a cry against that backdrop is a ‘realistic’ you.
“I can’t change my lifestyle; I won’t succeed in doing everything my soul yearns for!”
Yet the answer today is clear, ‘Take one step at a time, and you will succeed!’
Some of the most powerful words we say in prayer today are “Al Na TeshivenuRekomMilfanecha – Don’t leave us empty handed from in front of you.”
The simple understanding is that we beseech G-d not to return us empty handed. We have spent the day praying and yearn for a positive answer from G-d.
Yet there is a deeper explanation. On this day that we have worked so hard for, a day of fasting, introspection and of seeking repentance for our sins, we beseech the Almighty and say, “Please G-d, don’t let us come away empty handed. Ensure that we are able to come out differently than we came in. Let us take with us something from our experience today that will last into the rest of the year.”
A year from now, you will wish you had started today.
One small step for man – what will your step be?