The effect we have on others

Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.

“There is nothing new beneath the sun! Whatever has been is what will be, and whatever has been done is what will be done.” (Ecclesiastes) These words are profound and cynical. It was though it does not matter what we do or say, everything is preordained.

We all have been there. Nothing seems to go right. With all the wisdom in the world we still have doubts. The single most significant doubt is the role of God in the universe. Perhaps, even the futility of life gives us pause.

We even wonder, “Thus I hated all my achievements laboring under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who succeeds me.” Solomon realizes that there is no value to wealth if it is not shared, in some way, with others. We know that poverty will never be eradicated, or homelessness eliminated, or hunger abated, but we do know that one person helping another will eventually begin a process that will relieve these afflictions.

Perhaps the most effective way to realize that our deeds will overcome despair, and humility erase conceit, can be found in the following story:

A great Sage was teaching a class and one student asked whether any teacher has an effect on the students. After the class, the Sage inquired as to the availability of the student to accompany him as he traveled and preached. The student was overjoyed. To preach with such a master—how wonderful!

Along the way, the Sage stopped to help a poor widow, chopping wood and feeding the livestock. As they left the grateful woman, the student asked why he had not preached to her.

On and on, they visited village after village. In some were sick people in need of comfort and prayer. In others there were people who needed someone to prepare food and feed them. Again, the student wondered about preaching.

At the end of the full day, the frustration was great for the student who wanted to learn the art of preaching. The Sage replied, “What do you think we have been doing all day?”

Surely, there is nothing new under the sun, but we were placed here to establish goodness and mercy because all of us depend on this attitude for true completion. We may not feel as though our little bit helps, but it does if it is given with sincerity and compassion.

Perhaps Solomon was right that what has been done will be done. I believe that what has been done can be improved upon by all of us. Celebrating President’s Day this month should remind us that this country was founded on this principle.