Counting the contributions
In the beginning of the Torah portion of Pekudei, at the end of the book of Exodus, Moses presents a detailed account of the enormous donations contributed to him for the construction of the Tabernacle. Not a single coin remains unaccounted for. Moses reports to the people how many pounds of gold, silver and copper he received, and how exactly they were used in the structure. He gives an account for every last piece of jewelry and metal that came into his hands.
There is a simple but very moving message here. In the biblical imagination, there is no contribution in life that is not worthy of being accounted for. Every deed counts; every word, each gesture must be reckoned with. No contribution is too small to be counted and valued.
For Moses it is not only the great donors and their large contributions that are meaningful. Moses is compelled to give an account for the smallest of contributions as well. The single silver or copper coin contributed by the poor man, the tiny bracelet or earring contributed by an individual woman, must be counted with equal sincerity and passion. Why? Because in Judaism there is no such thing as a small, insignificant act. Every moment contains the promise of eternity; every deed changes the world.
In the Bible, many of the greatest history-changing events are traced back to a single moral choice made by a single individual at a single moment. Joseph is liberated from prison, becoming the viceroy of Egypt and saving the entire Fertile Crescent, including the Hebrew tribe, from famine, only because while in prison he shows interest in two fellow inmates who are depressed. Moses, the man who has had the greatest impact on human civilization, owes his survival to the kindness of a single Egyptian woman walking at a river bank choosing to listen to the cry of a Hebrew infant.
How characteristic is it that all of Judaism, introduced to the world by Moses, could be traced back to one act of compassion practiced by a non-Jewish woman on her way to wash up! Moses, then, perhaps more than anybody else, understood the infinite value of a single deed of grace, of one mitzvah (good and holy deed).
Eight decades later, this man of G-d would stand up in front of his people and movingly declare: “These are the reckonings of the Tabernacle.” Every contribution, he is saying, is indispensable in transforming the world into a home for G-d.
The Drowning Child
The story has been told of a poor Scottish farmer whose name was Fleming. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.
The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.
"I want to repay you," said the nobleman. "You saved my son's life."
"No, I can't accept payment for what I did," the Scottish farmer replied waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the family hovel.
"Is that your son?" the nobleman asked.
"Yes," the farmer replied proudly.
"I'll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of." And that he did.
Farmer Fleming's son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated with honors from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London. In 1928 he discovered that certain bacteria cannot grow in certain vegetable molds and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.
Years afterward, the same nobleman's son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia.
What saved his life this time? Penicillin.
The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill.
His son's name? Sir Winston Churchill.