Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman
Seeing the Future
In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion the verse states, “Vachamushim olu Bnei Yisroel maeretz Mitzrayim.” Rashi quotes a Midrash in one interpretation that explains the word vachamushim to mean that only one-fifth of the Jewish people went out of Mitzrayim (Egypt), while the other four-fifths died in the plague of darkness. Rav Shimon Schwab (20th century Gadol) asks, “How do we understand this interpretation? The great celebration of our exodus from Egypt is marred by the death of the majority of the people?”
Rav Schwab suggests the following understanding. Perhaps Rashi is explaining to us the effects of individuals exponentially over time. Perhaps not all four-fifths died then, but a minority of people died at that time. Taking those individuals and looking at what could have potentially come from them over time, we get a much more significant number equal to the four-fifths of the Jews at that time.
The Midrash is teaching us to look at the future and realize what potential one individual may have. I heard a story from a great talmid chacham years ago that relays this message very well.
There was a snowstorm one day and only two other boys and he showed up for class. The Rebbe started teaching and was raising his voice and acting out the lesson as if there were a full class of boys in the room. After the lesson, this student asked his Rebbe, “Why did you have to strain yourself today and teach as if there was a full class since there were only three of us in the room?”
The Rebbe responded, “You are mistaken. Each one of you represents hundreds if not thousands of people. The lessons you learned today will be imparted to your families for generations as well as all with whom you come in contact. There were thousands of people in the room today. How could I teach with any less enthusiasm?”
The Midrash is teaching us an important lesson. Don’t underestimate the potential effect of one individual. Each person interacts on a daily basis with many people, family, friends, co-workers, etc. Let us make the most from all of our interactions in creating a Kiddush Hashem wherever we go.