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1945. Bergen Belsen. After the Nazis took the lives of his wife, children and grandchildren, Rabbi Yisroel Spira harbored the thought of making a dash for freedom from Bergen Belsen. Embarking upon such a venture, however, meant almost certain death as the Nazi sharpshooters kept a close watch. For many, however, even death was a liberation of sorts from the horrific conditions and presented an "escape" from the years of intense suffering.
Across the barracks, a widow by the name of Bronia perceived that Rabbi Spira was weighing such an option and caught his attention. "Don't do it," she urged. "The world needs you!"
Indeed such words turned prophetic as Rabbi Spira would survive the War, emigrate to Brooklyn and administer the miraculous re-birth of the Bluzhever Chassidic dynasty which thrives until this very day. (By way of post-script, the woman who persuaded him not to run and thereby to spared his life ultimately became his wife, Rebbetzin Bronia Spira). [Source: Yaffa Eliach's Chasidic Tales of the Holocaust, (1982)].
As society becomes less and less personal, it is easy to lose sight of our own inherent value. It is not uncommon to feel like just another PIN code or some non-descript, insignificant member of planet Earth's 7.6 billion residents. In contradistinction to this unsettling mindset, the Torah repeatedly reminds us that we each possess a unique personality, a singular composite of strengths, weaknesses and talents. That at the end of the day, we are truly and undoubtedly one of a kind.
This message resonates throughout the Parsha in various contexts:
"God spoke to Moshe, saying: 'Attack the Midianites and smite them; since they attacked you through their plot over the matter of Peor ... (25:16-18). Rashi: "But God did not command Israel to destroy Moab because of Ruth who was destined to emerge from them."
Imagine that. The emergence of one, single righteous woman (centuries hence, no less) was enough of a merit to justify the continued existence of an entire nation.
"These are the sons of Dan according to their families ... sixty-four thousand, four hundred." (26:42-43) With a population of nearly 65,000, the tribe of Dan was the largest of all but one (Shevet Yehudah) according to the national census that appears in this week's Parsha. This whopping figure is a far, far cry from the "modest" beginnings of Shevet Dan (way back in Mitzrayim) as Dan himself had only one son - Chushim (who himself was deaf). Who would have imagined how prolific this Tribe would become from the humble beginnings of Dan's one and only child.
Acknowledging (and harnessing) the power of "one" plays a crucial role in defining our work during the "Three Weeks" when the Jewish people collectively and individually contemplates our long, long Exile. Specifically, we find in this week's Haftorah as follows: "And I [Jeremiah] said ... 'God ... I know not how to speak, for I am but a lad.' Then Hashem said to me, 'Do not say, 'I am but a lad,' rather to wherever I send you shall you go, and whatever I command you shall you speak. Fear not before them, for I am with you, to rescue you - the word of Hashem." (1:6-8).
In a nutshell, "Don't sell yourself short." Don't underestimate the potential positive repercussions you can bring to the world. Don't discount how many lives you can inspire or how many smiles you can create. True we might never launch a thousand ships and we might not even find a minyan of folks interested in what we have to say. But don't let that deter you one bit. Life is not - nor has it ever been - strictly about numbers.
This is precisely the sentiments we find in the Mesillas Yesharim's (Chapter 19) terse words regarding the Exile and our mourning thereof. "And if a person will say, 'who am I and what am I to daven over the Exile and Jerusalem?' 'Could it be that on account of my prayer the exiles will be gathered in and the redemption will sprout?!" Come on. Who are we kidding?
Perish the thought cautions Rabbi Luzzato in his timeless work: "For this is the reason that mankind was created as a sole entity (i.e., with only one person) so that everyone should proclaim, 'For me the world was created.' It is a nachas to Hashem that His children should beseech him and daven for the end of the Exile ..."
Whether it is your particular prayer that will usher in Eliyahu and the Rebuilding of Jerusalem is not anything we need to reckon with...but far be it from us to modestly excuse ourselves from such a request on account of our own (errant) perception of our insignificance.
Never count yourself out. You are a beloved child of Hashem. Culture may seek to discredit our immense significance. Against that current, may we rise to the occasion and capitalize on the spirit of these days. And may our own, unique, irreplaceable and inimitable contribution help usher in the Ultimate Redemption speedily in our days.