This past week I, along with a number of other community leaders, received a letter from a 6th grade teacher in Cairo, Illinios named Mrs. Goff. Mrs Goff described her small town of Cairo as having a "history of decline and conflict related to racial tensions." She wrote that although she tries to broaden her students' worldview regarding topics of human rights and social justice, all too often it falls on deaf ears. She then wrote about one experience that changed this for her students: A documentary about the Holocaust called Paper Clips.
After watching the film, the students in her 6th grade class decided they wanted to undertake a project of "understanding, honor, and prevention." They want to focus on the children that perished under the Nazis and they are asking for pennies. Their request is for one penny which they will add to their memorial that will include names and stories of the lives of the children that were killed. Mrs. Goff concluded the letter by stating: "I am trying to teach them that this great tragedy needs to be a lesson to stop hatred and that there is a fine line between uttering the word hate and acting on it."
The Torah section we will be reading this Shabbat contains one of the longest and most repetitive narratives of the Five Books of Moses. It is the story of Avraham sending off his servant, Eliezer, to bring back a wife for his son, Yitzhak. While Avraham is giving instructions to his servant about the type of woman he should look for, Eliezer becomes nervous. He says to his master, "Perhaps the woman will not follow me." The Hebrew word for "Perhaps" can be spelled in two different ways: with or without a vav. In this instance it is spelled אלי which can also be read as to me. What Eliezer actually said to Avraham was that if he would be unsuccessful to bring home a bride for Yitzhak, then he would want his own daughter to marry him; he wanted the honor to be to me (see comments of Rashi to verse 24:39).
Most people in this situation would not have given this mission their complete attention. After all, if he is unsuccessful then his daughter has a chance at marrying a very eligible suitor. He could have returned to Avraham empty handed and hoped that the chips would fall in his favor. Instead, Eliezer acted faithfully for his master Avraham. He saw a greater mission than what was immediately in front of him. Although he wouldn't come to any personal gain, he felt it necessary to remove his own interests in favor of doing what was best for the future of the Jewish nation.
In life, rarely is the easy choice also the right one. We sometimes have to make a choice between doing something that will benefit us and doing something that won't give us any personal gain but will be of great value to others. The children living in Cairo, Illinois took upon themselves a mission to go beyond themselves and do something that will benefit the world. I hope that their project is a success and that it is one that we can all learn from.
To find out more about this project you can visit their Facebook page at Pennies as Promise.