You might say I’m big into Pling--plastic bling--as a boy who wears a lot of bracelets. It’s not that I’m a big fan of jewelry, but each one represents an important experience or value in my life. One says, “Zachor” to keep me consciously reminded of the Holocaust, and MY role in ensuring that the memories of those who perished and those who suffered will never be forgotten.
The idea behind it is to give a bracelet to someone who you see acting kindly or going out of his or her way to make a difference in someone’s life.
The movement is called Butterflies are Forever, because the Butterfly Effect, at its core, is a mathematical concept stating that small acts can have a large effect. Originally derived from the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings creates tiny changes in the atmosphere that can eventually build upon each other and can ultimately grow into a force that can even bring about a hurricane halfway across the world.
Taken metaphorically, if you change one thing, you can change everything, and so, even small acts can have big consequences and send a ripple effect that gets bigger and bigger, positively impacting one person, which can eventually impact the whole world.
I was given the bracelet and in turn, I also have given a bracelet, with the hope that I am part of an ever-growing chain that keeps people “paying it forward,” or as I learned at Gan Shelanu, “Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah,” one good deed brings about another one.
When we volunteer, we may never know the result of our efforts, but our acts always do have the potential to set in motion a positive force that has an unimaginable and generally positive consequence.
In this week’s parashah, Vayeshev, we learn that Joseph is a cocky and annoying little brother and that his older siblings reach the end of their collective rope, throw him in a pit and eventually sell him into slavery.
The ripples of their actions spread far and wide.
As we know, Joseph eventually saves the entire Middle East from famine, which brings about the migration of the Hebrews from the land of Canaan to Egypt, setting the stage for 400 years of slavery, predetermined by God, all so that we could eventually experience the Exodus and receive the Torah and become the Jewish people with a land of our own, the land of Israel.
I’m not saying that trying to kill Joseph was akin to a small flap of a butterfly’s wing. It was actually a terrible act. But it does illustrate the point that we just don’t know where our actions and all that comes from them will lead.
In his Laws of Repentance, Maimonides, explains that we and the world are judged by the majority of our deeds, and I quote, "Therefore we should see ourselves throughout the year as if our deeds and those of the world are evenly poised between good and bad, so that our next act may change both the balance of our lives and that of the world."
In other words, the butterfly effect.
Volunteerism is something that has always been a part of my family and this community, with its importance and value impressed upon me from a very young age. However, when I was a sophomore in high school, I was searching for a meaningful and spiritual way to positively contribute to my community.
Volunteering at a food shelf or with elderly people is a noble, invaluable gift of self to others, but, as worthy as both those gifts are, I became intrigued by the possibility of service to others as a member of the Chevra Kavod Hamet. I was fascinated to learn about the Chevra at Adath and the many special rituals involved in a traditional Jewish burial that they perform. I learned that the Chevra’s job is to prepare a body for burial in the most respectful manner, and that doing so is considered the highest level of mitzvah, because it is an entirely selfless act, as the deceased person cannot repay the kindness.
Part of the Chevra’s role is to perform the Jewish burial ritual of tahara, which is largely still practiced in a similar way as it was done in Biblical times. This includes: respectfully preparing the body for burial by washing, reciting psalms, wrapping the body in a tallis, and placing the deceased in a coffin, after which, the body is never left alone until burial.
As I reflected on the value and care with which the Chevra treats each person in death, I began to understand more fully the value we should place on each person’s life while on this earth. This interconnection, which I had never considered before, inspired me to contact the Chevra to ask if I could volunteer.
Since this is a very serious obligation and one in which teenagers generally do not participate, I was not accepted immediately. The leaders needed to assess my maturity and ensure that my intentions were honorable. Only after being interviewed and observing a tahara, was I accepted into the Chevra. Each tahara that I have participated in has been uniquely moving and impactful.
What I find most meaningful is that I am a part of an ancient ritual that is filled with so much respect and compassion for each life lived.
It acknowledges that we come into the world with care, and love and community to embrace and support us, and when we leave the world, those same values are in place. I am so honored that I can do something that shows such respect for someone who has undoubtedly impacted others’ lives in some way. And also that a deceased person’s loved ones can feel confident that every measure of care, tradition, and compassion is provided as he is prepared for burial.
I generally do not speak about my participation in the Chevra, because it is a solemn and private act, but I share it with you ONLY because, as I am about to finish high school and leave for college, I am so grateful that I have been given the blessing of being able to not only SERVE this congregation, but be part of something so personally life affirming and life changing for me.
To be SURE, this role is not for everyone, so what I really want to inspire others to do, is to dig deep within themselves to find a volunteer role that both begins that butterfly effect and also is transformative for them.
An anonymous writer once wrote: “Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year. But when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in”. And there is so much to be done locally, nationally and around the world – especially now.
As we begin Chanukah tonight, we remember the fight for our survival and the community working together to rebuild the Temple and rekindle the menorah, bringing light and God’s presence back into everyone’s life following such a tragic time. As we increasingly add light into our lives with each candle over the next eight nights, I hope that you can see each flame as a flicker of purpose that, like the FLUTTER of the butterfly’s wings, can be the impetus that sparks action.
We don’t know where those sparks will land, but we do know that like the power of community taking care of each other, when all ignited, they are definitely brighter and more powerful than alone.