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Giving with Integrity
Every person counts.
Today marks the end of the shiva period for my great uncle Pinchas ben Aharon HaKohen z”l, “Tito Pinky,” beloved and respected younger brother of my grandfather Moses Cohen z”l.
He always encouraged me to learn and teach Torah with integrity. If I had one word to use to describe him it would be just that: integrity.
Today’s XL is in his memory and merit.
When one is in the business of having a positive influence on others, it is easy to lose one’s integrity. “Influence” rapidly becomes synonymous with large numbers, and ironically, the ones who loses out are the individuals one set out to help in the first place.
Last time on XL, we sat down at Abraham and Sarah’s dinner table to try to grasp what they were sought to achieve with every guest that came through their doors. We discovered that they figured out how to harness an energy that flows through the universe, and could unleash it by making every person feel that they meant the world.
This isn’t just about love. It’s about respect as well. When you treat people with the respect that they feel in their heart of hearts, you validate their souls’ innate awareness that they possess intrinsic, infinite, unconditional, un-monetizable self-worth.
Parents are uniquely poised to nurture this awareness in their kids. When parents look into their kids’ eyes, actually listen to what happened to them that day, speak to them in their language, scratch their backs at night as they fall asleep — they can uncover this inner sense that vibrates with the cosmic energy field of significance of every human being.
How deep does this inner awareness come run?
The Torah describes the origin of the nearly 8 billion on the planet today with the formation of a single human being (Adam). Although most of us have grown accustomed to this Creation narrative, one could argue that it would have been more “efficient” for God to have made lots of people all at once and sprinkled them across the globe. He would have diversified His portfolio, not put all His eggs in one basket, and scaled faster.
Think about how a farmer plants wheat. He doesn’t start with a single kernel and see where it goes from there. Why should growing humans be different?
Why does that Torah describe God creating an individual named Adam and not all of humanity with one Divine snap?
The reason is because the Torah is combatting a human tendency to dehumanize people, treating them like anonymous numbers.
The Talmud1 views the act of creating Adam as stamping this sort of energy field into the universe — a quantum field where the quantum unit of significance is the single human being. Forever, every single life would matter.
I was recently zapped by this quantum field when my five year old daughter peeked at my Zoom class and asked me, “how many people do you have in your class, Daddy?” (It must have been that she had overheard me making some comment at some point during COVID about their being “a lot of people” or “not enough people” in my class, and I was hearing my own echo through my child.)
Our obsession with numbers or people takes a toll on our humanity. If we want to preserve our integrity, we must reinforce our inner sense that if it matters to one person then it makes a whole world of difference.
We don’t need “a ton of people” to be “worth the trouble.” Just one person is enough.2
Too often, we mentally pile people together, unknowingly dehumanizing us all.
Just as the first person created opened his eyes to see a world made just for him, so too, every person afterwards should know and take to heart that he or she is worth the world, and learn to see everyone else with those same eyes as our parents, Abraham and Sarah taught us to.
For a deep dive into the subject of individuality and self-esteem in Torah thought, pick up a copy of Nurture their Nature.
Of course, all things equal, if one can save 100 lives or 10 lives, one should save 100, but very often, scope of impact is at the cost of depth, and usually trivializes the value of the individual.