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Which of Our Actions Will Change the World?

Which of Our Actions Will Change the World?

Two hands, painted like a globe, forming a heart

I developed a new habit after moving to the Virgin Islands last summer. After two Category 5 hurricanes, it is one I am sure will stay with me forever: playing prophet. It starts the moment a blip appears in the ocean – whether a continent or a hemisphere away. Seeing a dot appear off the coast of Africa, I, and those who have lived here much longer, automatically track it, constantly speculating on its path.

At its core, this enterprise is no different than the one I play when reading the daily newspaper. Which story, I wonder, will we remember a decade from now? Which screaming headline will fade in weeks, days, or, given today’s fast-paced world, even hours? And which story, even if it’s buried on a back page or in a different section, will be the one that changes lives forever?

In “tracking” the moral storms of the current season, I ask these same questions. As we add “Parkland” to the litany of loss that grows longer all the time, will it be one more name on an already too-long list? Or will it somehow make a difference? What will be the impact of the March 14th school walk-outs and the nationwide March 24th marches? Will the determination fade away? Will the energy dissipate? Or, will we remember this name, this moment, this effort for the rest of our lives?

So, too, in the gender and safety discussions unfolding around us. Are they merely blips, passing storms whose rain and winds will leave us as we were? Once they’re over will we go back to seeing, hearing, and treating each other – men and women in the modern world – as we always have? Or, will this moment be something that not only touches our hearts, but changes our lives as well?

At the end of this month, we will come together to retell a tale that has stood the test of time. In countless languages and across many centuries, this one tale of liberation and redemption has inspired generations. We have incorporated its contours into our later lives in many ways: The spiritual “Go Down, Moses” sees the southern slaveholder as an ancient Pharaoh just as a banner on a hillside outside Dharamsala that says “Next year in Lhasa” demonstrates the plight of exiled Tibetan Buddhists and their hope to be reunited with their own land.

Who could have imagined when Moses was born under an oppressive regime, shielded from hatred, and placed in a basket (presuming that’s the way it happened), that this story would be one we would still be telling so many centuries later? From those acts and from that story, peoples have been born, faiths have flourished, spirits have been lifted, hope has survived, and lives have been changed. The story may not have made it to the front page nor been on anyone's radar, yet it is the tale we still tell today.

Who can say, then, which of our acts or interactions will shake the world, change our reality, or bring about our deepest hopes for the future?

Rabbi Michael L. Feshbach is the rabbi of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas in St. Thomas, VI. He is a senior rabbinic fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem, Israel.

Rabbi Michael L. Feshbach
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