Make A Difference
Can one person really make a difference? In our Torah portion this week, we can see that one good person, Noah, made the difference between the survival and total destruction of the human race. It was on account of Noah that the world carried on after the flood, and you and I are here today. We can learn from here the great impact each one of us can make in our lives - and the world - by choosing to do right.
In our story, a boy makes the personal choice to do right and makes a bigger impact than he could have ever imagined.
"THE CALM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STORM"
Todd sat at his desk looking out the window at the beautiful rainbow of autumn leaves on the trees around the school grounds. But a playful shove on the shoulder put his daydream to a sudden end.
"You of all people should know about paying attention and taking class seriously!" chided his friend Ron, with a smile. "Especially the way you saved us all at the end of last year..." he added.
Todd smiled and shook his head as he thought back on everything that had happened that past spring. His class was having a serious case of spring fever, with only a few weeks to go before the big summer break. Of course even the teachers expect this and usually try to make the end of the school year, if not fun, then at least as interesting as possible.
Mr. Simms, the science teacher, had thought he had done just that by letting all of students work together on a multi-media class project about weather. It really was a great idea, at least Todd thought, but it seemed no one else in the whole class was at all interested in taking the assignment the least bit seriously.
Whenever the teacher would turn his back or step out of the room, they would turn the model weather balloons into water balloons, make beanie hats out of the windmill propellers, and a couple of guys in the back even turned the wind machine into their own private air conditioner!
Todd also knew how to have a good time, but it seemed to him that all of this was going too far.
The teacher knew Todd was artistic, so his part of the project was to paint the backgrounds of the different types of clouds and skies for the climate displays. He had spread out the poster board and colored paints on one of the back tables and was getting down to work, when he heard a whisper over his shoulder: "Hey cartoon in some fighter jets!" said Jim, one of the 'air-conditioned' kids.
"Yeah, and a couple of flying saucers and don't forget the aliens!" added Ron, laughing.
Since everybody was turning this project into a big joke, why shouldn't Todd, too? The boys looked on expectantly for the 'artist' to do his work. Todd was ready to go along; since nobody else seemed to care about the project, what difference did it make whether he did or not? After all, he was only one guy.
But then he thought about it some more. They were still in school, and this was supposed to be a serious project. So what if no one else was taking it seriously - he would.
Much to the boys' disappointment, Todd ignored their suggestions and tried his best to paint nice, normal backgrounds. He got so absorbed in the painting that he didn't even notice the sudden eerie tension in the room. Mr. Simms had unexpectedly made the rounds of the classroom and caught everyone in their antics.
You could tell he was getting really mad, and even said something to himself about canceling the big class trip, three fun-packed days at Disney World that everyone had been waiting for the whole year! Then he walked to the front of the room, and tapped on his desk to get everyone's attention, though this was hardly necessary since all the kids were staring breathlessly at him anyway.
"I must say how disappointed I am at everyone's behavior," Mr. Simms began. "The whole class has really let me down. If even one person in the class had taken the project seriously it might be different, but now I have no choice but to cancel the class trip..."
Just then, the class was stunned to see Todd shoot up his hand, as he cleared his throat to get the teacher's attention. Mr. Simms, also surprised, called on him to speak.
"But Mr. Simms, it's not exactly true that nobody is taking it seriously," he said quietly, "I am."
Then Todd pointed to his paintings lying on the table. The teacher looked at him incredulously, and walked over to get a better look, as the class held its breath.
Mr Simms saw all the hard work Todd had put into the beautiful skies and turned to the class. "I see that at least one of you is taking the project seriously. I am therefore prepared to give you all one more chance."
You can bet after that everyone's attitude to the project became a lot different. In the end it came out pretty well, and yes, they all went on the great trip. Everyone realized that Todd, by himself, had saved the day by standing alone to do what was right.
Q. How did Todd feel when the other kids first asked him to make a joke out of the pictures he was painting?
A. He felt that since no one else was taking the class project seriously, maybe he also didn't have to.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He was glad he did take it seriously, since this gave the whole class a second chance to go on their school trip.
Q. Why can one person doing right make such a difference?
A. People are very influenced by what they see others around them doing. If at least somebody is acting properly, others who aren't sure what to do may follow his lead. Also, just like one small candle burning in a dark room takes away a lot of darkness, one person doing right, as we see in the story, can really make a dark situation brighter.
Q. What do we gain when we realize how much power we have as individuals?
A. Often when a person feels weak or ineffective, it makes him want to give up and not even try. But when we realize that what we as individuals do or don't do really counts, it will give us the courage and energy to succeed.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Does the fact that 'everybody else is doing it' ever justify behaving in a way that goes against our values?
A. It certainly can sound like a tempting argument. However, what is right and wrong is not up to vote, or applicable to 'majority rule.' What's right is right, no matter how many people say otherwise. And when we choose properly, we strengthen our relationship with God, regardless of what others choose to do.
Q. In the end, all the people in the world, except Noah and his family were destroyed. So what difference did his proper behavior really make?
A. Firstly, in Noah's merit, the world was given a very long 'probation period' to improve, and learn from Noah's ways while he spent 120 years building the ark. However they chose not to improve, and had to face consequences. Beyond this, Noah merited to rescue the planet's animal life, and together with his family, begin our world anew. In our generation, even if we see evil around us, our choice to do and be good, is doing more than we can imagine bringing light into the world.