Question:

What’s my role in life? Is it to “slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” or is it to help my own family and community?

Answer:

I get the question. But why is there a conflict? What other way is there to save the planet than by thinking globally and acting locally? Would anyone imagine that by abandoning our families and communities for the sake of “more universal issues,” we would actually end up with a better planet?

The Torah tells us that G‑d created all His creatures en masse—in flocks, herds, packs, or as numerous scattered individuals. Only man was created singular, one of a kind. The sages of the Talmud find a lesson in this: that every person is an entire world. One person lost is an entire world lost. One person saved is an entire world saved.

Nothing has had a more destructive effect on our world than the reduction of human beings to accumulative numbers. Once a person is a number, a family is an arbitrary set, a community is a superset, and the world becomes a mess of meaningless digits. Once we learn to value one another, to value life, to value living together, only then can we learn to value the planet as a whole.

Almost 450 years ago Rabbi Isaac Luria, “the Ari,” added a whole new depth to the idea of tikkun olam—fixing the world. The idea itself is as old as Adam and Eve, who were placed in the garden “to guard it and to work it”—meaning to take care of it, to be the stewards of planet Earth. The Ari went into detail, explaining how each Torah practice is meant to heal another aspect of the world.

Our souls, he said, did not descend to this world for their own sake—they were perfect to begin with. Rather, they came here to heal a broken world, to put back together the fragments by using each thing for the purpose for which it was created. And the Torah provides the instructions for completing that puzzle.

This means that every act of kindness, of wisdom and of beauty that you perform has not only a local, but a global effect. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, “All the wars and violence in the world are because there is strife between a husband and wife.” Similarly, Rabbi Chanina taught that studying Torah brings peace to the world.

The cosmos is wired, and we are sitting inside the motherboard. There’s no way to estimate how great an impact one random Torah deed can have. Maimonides put it this way: “Every person must see him- or herself as though the entire world is held in the balance, and with one small act the scales can be tipped one way or the other.”

That’s called a sense of responsibility—a global responsibility. But one that starts at home, with what’s best for you and your family.