A few years ago, I injured a few of my toenails on a canoeing trip. It didn’t seem serious, and I figured that with a bit of time and TLC my toenails would heal and I’d be back to my bouncing self.

Well, fast forward about eight years, and my toenails were an ongoing nuisance at best, and causing outright pain at worst. It was finally time go nuclear with this problem.

The podiatrist decided that it was time for a clean break—no pun intended. He “gently removed” the biggest of the offending toenails, saying that he hoped it would grow back, clean, neat and healed.

He advised that when the novocaine wore off, I was to keep the wound clean, and if I felt any pain, I could take some Advil.

I assumed I was in the clear.

Then the novocaine wore off.

I’ll just say, I had not felt that kind of pain in a very long time. Walking was difficult, standing was difficult. In fact, just being was painful. For a few days, I muscled through, having the best excuse not to exercise, but the pain didn’t seem to be passing. Shabbat arrived and, not wanting to walk to services in zero degrees in crocs, I forced myself into an old pair of dress shoes.

Big mistake.

On the way home from the synagogue, as I hobbled down the street, I had an epiphany. As the others who had started the walk home with me now walked ahead, I mused, why I was in such pain? It’s just a toe!? And not even a toe; it is the nail of the toe. Hardly a significant part of my body. I could live without a nail. I could even live without a toe, G‑d forbid. How could it be that this dry piece of protein, of alpha keratin (fine, I googled that), that most people clip off, is now the source of such pain? The heart, the brain, even a bone—all these are essential parts of the body, so if they are damaged or injured, G‑d forbid, the pain would be justified. But a nail?

It was then that something I had learned in Tanya suddenly made sense to me. Tanya teaches how all the organs develop from a drop of sperm, originating from the “mind of the father.” It describes how it is the ultimate source of every organ of the body—from the most integral organs, like the brain and the heart, to the least important, like the toe and even the lifeless nails. They are all part of a cohesive unit.

Tanya then draws a comparison between the body and the Jewish people. Every member of our nation is compared to an organ. The righteous scholar might be the brain, and the more simple folks might be a toe. But each and every single person is a part of this unit. And, as such, we all play a vital role.

Suddenly, my aching toe started making more sense. It was proof positive that even the most (seemingly) insignificant parts of the body, representing the (seemingly) most insignificant people from our Jewish nation, all are necessary contributors to the ultimate unity of our people.

On the surface, there are people in our world who are clearly “brain” people, or “heart” people, or “toe” people. But on a deeper level, every single person plays a key role, not just in my personal completeness, but in the completeness of our people.

Just as one feels great pain at the loss of a toenail and must nurture it back to health, so ought we to feel great pain because of the struggles of another person. Even if that person doesn’t seem to be so important, everyone plays a key note in the symphony of life, and if any one person were missing, the composition would be lacking a critical sound in the Divine harmony.

* * *

My aching toe will heal, and I will forget that temporary pain, but the lesson will hopefully stay with me for much longer time.