As the economy slows and sales decline in the automobile sector, automakers lobby their governments for bailout packages. Here in Canada, Chrysler has petitioned the Government for an emergency loan of 1.6 billion dollars and added that if the loan is not approved Chrysler would be forced to shut down a number of Canadian plants.
When I first heard this news I reacted with a sympathetic nod to the several hundred workers who would lose their jobs. After all, such news is no longer new to Canadians who have suffered a number of plant shutdowns in the last few years. But then the Worker's Union Representative came on the radio and shifted my perspective. He reminded us that plant shutdowns affect the entire economy.
When one plant stops making cars other plants stop manufacturing parts. When other plants stop manufacturing parts further plants stop supplying materials such as metals, plastic, leather and glass. When parts and supplies are no longer required, the machines that produce them become unnecessary. The mechanics and engineers lose work as do the workers who build these machines. When all these factories reduce their manufacturing, there are fewer parts and products to deliver. This affects shipping, rail companies and, of course, truck drivers. Fewer ships, trains and trucks reduce demand for fuel. This, in turn, affects the markets at large and the jobs of workers at oil rigs and gas pumps. When any part of the economy shuts down the ripple effect is felt throughout the economy.
One Good Deed
There is a principle in Judaism that everything in life can serve as a lesson to us in matters of religion and faith. When we consider the (perhaps over-dramatized version of the) trickledown effect of a single plant closure we gain an entirely new appreciation for the far reaching effects of a single mitzvah.
Let us consider the mitzvah of charity. Imagine a poor man comes to your door and you invite him in for dinner. This simple action, which took perhaps ten minutes of your time and some of your pantry's contents, has far reaching effects that you might never have considered.
When you served this man his dinner, you and he engaged in a mitzvah. The divine energy of G‑d's will flowed through both giver and recipient for His will was fulfilled through both of you. When you reflect further, you realize that the food you served and the plates on which you served it also became carriers of the divine will. On further reflection you realize that the pots in which the food was cooked and the energy invested in cooking the foods are also elevated by this mitzvah. Furthermore, the energy invested in shopping for the foods and the money expended in purchasing them have also become holy.
To expand the concept even further: The workers who manufactured the food you purchased and the cartons in which they were stored as well as those who manufactured the bills and coins that you expended also become carriers of the divine will. Furthermore, the food eaten by, and the clothes worn by, these workers were also uplifted for they enabled those workers to manufacture the items you used in your mitzvah. Of course this means that those who prepared food and made clothes for those workers are also touched by your mitzvah. Every link in this chain of mitzvah is nourished by a preceding link, reaching back almost to the beginning of time.
When you think about it you realize that there are, in fact, multiple chains, each one striking out in a different direction and each one subdividing into many more sub chains. There is the chain of those who manufactured each food item used in the mitzvah, which subdivides at each level into the chains of those who enabled the manufacturers of these items. There are separate chains for each pot, plate, cup and piece of cutlery that was used. There are chains of those who delivered these items. There are separate chains for those who built the house in which the mitzvah was performed, the stove on which the food was cooked, the table on which it was served and the chair in which the poor man sat. Each chain multiplies into many more chains till the number literally exceeds the reach of the human mind.
Who ever thought that a single mitzvah can literally touch the whole of humanity?
Each segment of these many chains performed their part without knowing that they were part of a multilayered chain. But G‑d knew. G‑d orchestrated this complex production of parts over the course of decades, centuries and even millennia. Each part of the many chains merged seamlessly with the others finally coalescing on that momentous occasion that brought the poor man to your door.
That was your moment of decision. You would determine whether the countless hours of effort and energy would be elevated or wasted. It seemed like a simple choice at the time: Invite the poor man in or send him on his way. Little did you realize that centuries of toil, myriads of angels, all of history and G‑d Himself were waiting with bated breath to see whether their investment would prove worthwhile. One simple choice can validate the whole of history. Conversely, one simple choice can put all of history to waste. These are momentous decisions and we make them all the time.
Maimonides writes (Laws of Repentance 3:4) that one must always imagine that the entire world is equally balanced between good and evil and that any one deed will tilt the scales one way or the other. The afore-explained idea lends an entirely new perspective to these words.