There is a famous precept in the Talmud that says, “Whoever destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the whole world” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:1 (22a). Not only is that a very powerful statement, but I believe it is true. I also believe it is something we must all internalize and carry with us every day.
I have thought about this line from the Talmud a lot over the past week. The deliberate, murderous attack on innocent people in Toronto last Monday has made me think a lot about how a life can be easily destroyed, but also how a life can be easily saved.
From that attack alone we all know how a life can be destroyed in an instant, and when that life is destroyed it really feels like the whole world is being destroyed too. We question how one person can sink so low, into such misery and desperation, that he can murder not one, but ten people, in a matter of minutes. We question, what has our world become and how is a human being capable of something so despicable? Has our world been destroyed just a little bit more each time a person destroys a single life?
If we focus on the destruction of life it will be hard to think about how we can turn the world around. So instead, as the people of Toronto heal, let’s focus on the second part of the statement, on saving even a single life.
What actions can we all take to try to save a single life? I wish I had a simple answer that I could write about in this space. It is something I have been struggling with for the past week. There are many individuals in our society who are different, who don’t fit in, who feel they sit on the outside. Some people are well adjusted and others seek out dark places to find comfort and belonging.
It could be your neighbour or your brother or maybe someone you work with. I believe that all of us are unique, and we all handle success and failure or joy and grief in different ways. How aware are we of the people around us, in particular, the people who may be silently screaming for help? What small actions can all of us take to show kindness, support or patience when interacting with someone who may be different?
While in no way am I saying that anyone who may not fit the mould in our society or appears to be different is capable of destroying a life. But you never know when an action that you take, by reaching out a helping hand, could potentially save a life. I keep going over in my head all the times I may have slighted a person who may have made me feel uncomfortable or seemed different on the outside to me. Did I do harm? Were my actions, or lack of action, yet another hit on a person who just needed some kindness?
I really do feel that we have it within us to save a life, even if we don’t know it when we do it. Hold the door for that person struggling to walk up the steps. Smile and make eye contact when someone stops you on the street and asks you a question that is clearly nonsense. Does it make a difference if you hand the homeless teenager a sandwich or hot drink instead of cash? I guess I’m just saying, take a moment to think when you interact with other people. Our actions affect everyone else. If we can all save just a single life then together we can save the whole world.