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Haazinu: The Impact of our Actions

“Because part of Hashem is His nation, Yakov is the rope of His realm.” (Devarim 32:9)

Our holy sefarim repeatedly remind us of the tremendous power that our every thought, word and action has. Everything we do here in this world, even if it seems minor and insignificant, has a strong impact on the entire universe. Our seemingly little actions can literally shake the heavens.

A charming parable explains this concept: A simple villager once visited the big city. He met an old acquaintance who had worked his way up financially, and the latter invited the villager to his home. When they entered the dining room, the villager saw his friend pull at a dangling string that was stuck to the ceiling, and wonder of wonders! The room was suddenly flooded with light! Not having heard about electricity before, the villager thought he had just witnessed a miracle.

“Where did the light come from?” he asked his friend.

“Why, it’s really simple,” the friend explained. “See this string that’s attached to the ceiling? When I pull it, the light turns on. When I pull it again, the light turns off.”

“Just like that?” the villager was incredulous. “Where can I get such a piece of string? I want to install it in my home as well.”

“Sure, I’ll send my servant to the hardware store and he’ll get you a piece of string,” the friend graciously offered.

Armed with the piece of string, the villager couldn’t wait to reach his hometown. As soon as he arrived, he gathered his family and friends.

“You won’t believe what magical things they have in the city!” he declared importantly. “Just wait and see what this little string will do.”

He climbed up on a ladder and attached the string to the ceiling. He pulled at it, but nothing happened. He scratched his head, pulled at it again, but nothing happened. After trying pulling the string in various ways, he headed back to the city in disappointment.

“You didn’t give me the same kind of string!” he shouted at his friend. “I pulled and pulled but no light turned on.”

“Of course not,” the city fellow chuckled, quite amused. “You have no electricity in your house, so how can you expect any light to turn on? The string needs to be attached to an electrical switch; otherwise it is just a worthless piece of string that can do nothing!”

The nations of the world often try to imitate our actions, in order to bring some light into their dark existence. We have a Yom Tov Purim, so that also get dressed up on their holiday and try to make merry. We take a palm branch on Succos, and they also take palm branches once a year. Many of their other customs and rituals are poor imitations of our holy mitzvos and customs. But pull as they might, their “strings” are not connected to Hashem, and are therefore worthless. Only when our mitzvos and customs connect us to Hashem, the Source of all Light, does it infuse our lives with meaning and fulfillment.

“Because part of Hashem is His nation.” We, the Jewish people, are fortunate to be connected to Hashem. We are the “rope of His realm,” not just a worthless piece of rope dangling from the ceiling, but a rope that is connected to Hashem! We are connected above, and therefore our lives are full of light.

Being connected to Hashem comes with its responsibilities. Our every word, thought and action pulls at major electrical switches up in Heaven. We have the power to infuse the world with light, or chas v’shalomto plunge the world into darkness. We therefore must be especially careful to guard our thoughts, speech and actions, and avoid lashon hara, rechilus and other forms of forbidden speech.

There is another thought-provoking parable by the holy Rebbe of Ruszin zt”l, which explains how our actions affect the entire world, because we are a “rope of Hashem’s realm.” The Rebbe would tell the following story on Erev Yom Kippur before Kol Nidrei:

A poor villager was visiting a rich person, when he noticed a piece of string hanging from the ceiling. “I can use just such a piece of rope to tether my horse,” the villager said to himself. “I’m sure the rich person wouldn’t mind if I cut it off for myself.” He climbed up on a chair, took out his pocket-knife and cut off the rope. As soon as he severed the rope, the huge, expensive chandelier that graced the room came crashing down to the floor, and was instantly smashed into millions of tiny pieces.

Upon hearing the horrible noise, the entire family came running. “How terrible!” they wrung their hands. “Look what you did! You destroyed this expensive chandelier that’s worth thousands of dollars!”

“This has nothing to do with me!” the poor villager cried. “I didn’t touch the chandelier – I promise! I just cut off a small piece of rope! The chandelier crashed to the floor unexpectedly, without me touching it!”

The rich person looked at the villager with a mixture of pity and disdain. The simple fellow didn’t even understand the gravity of what he had done! “Should I demand full compensation for the chandelier?” the rich person wondered. “What will I gain? He will never be able to repay me anyway, and he really didn’t even mean it. Should I let him off the hook completely? But look how much damage he has done!”

Finally, the rich person fined the villager ten dollars. When his family members asked him why he is letting the fellow off so cheaply, he explained: “I am charging him for the piece of string that he wanted to take without permission. For that he is certainly liable to pay.”

This is the meaning of the verse in Tehillim (62:13): “To You, Hashem, is kindness, because You repay each person according to his deeds.” Why is repaying a person according to his deeds called a “kindness”? That’s simple justice. However, when we commit a transgression, we are causing tremendous, irreparable damage to the world. We have no inkling about the “chandeliers” that come crashing down in Heaven. But Hashem, in His great kindness, repays us only for our small deeds, and not for the terrible outcome. Hashem knows that we will never be able to compensate for the damage we cause, and He understands that we have no inkling what we’ve really done. He repays us according to our actions, as we perceive them, and according to our intentions. This is a great kindness to us.

Let us always remember that we are like a string that is connected to the Heavens. Our every thought, word and action has tremendous power – to build or destroy. Let us weigh our actions carefully in order to bring light into the world.

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