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Parsha Chayei Sarah

Last Shabbat the Jews and the world lost a giant. In thinking about that tremendous contribution of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt"l, I am reminded of the last chapter of his book "To Heal the World." There, Rabbi Sacks point our that we live in difficult times. We see so many things wrong with the world and we know that our contributions might make a very small difference, but they have no power to affect the awesome balance of suffering which we behold.

Rabbi Sacks answers with a biblical parallel. The Torah tells us that Jews may not be counted directly. How then should a census be conducted? By having each Jew contribute a half shekel and counting the coins. By performing the count this way, we find out the number of people without transgressing the Torah's prohibition of counting our coreligionists.

Rabbi Sacks explains that this procedure teaches us something important which can help us overcome our current existential angst. A half shekel contribution to the operations of the Temple is infinitesimal, insignificant. And yet, the aggregate of the contributions allows the Temple to run smoothly. So too with people today. We are tempted to see our contributions as making no difference to the end result in our world, and taken individually, that is true. But we measure the worth of an individual not by the magnitude of the difference he made but by what he was able to contribute on the way.

Rabbi Sacks also asks why it is a half shekel and not a whole shekel. He answers that this teaches us yet another important lesson. It is not upon us to finish the task which G-d has laid upon the human race, but we can and should start it.

Rabbi Sacks started an extraordinary project of inspiring not just the Jewish people, but the world, to do good, to be moral and upstanding, to be respectful of difference, and to recognise each individual's worth. He was a tremendous fount of wisdom, and dispensed it liberally, literally changing the world in which he found himself. Rabbi Sacks inspired us all to continue our own small contributions, even if they initially do not seem so important by making his own enormous donation into our communal account as a nation and as a species. May his memory be a blessing.

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