During my first three years of college, I lived almost entirely in my mind- thinking my thoughts, reading my newspapers, listening to my classes, having my conversations. I almost never did anything that had any meaningful impact on the world.
It wasn't that I didn't care. I cared so much it hurt. I cared so much that my mind was filled to capacity with worry and apocalyptic visions and depressing thoughts related to the evil and suffering I read about in the morning newspaper, and all of these thoughts left me completely and totally paralyzed.
They left me a revolutionary paraplegic.
It wasn't that I didn't care- I cared so much it hurt My dreams were so enormous, so vast and mankind-wide in scope that they just hibernated in my mind, stuck like a great blue whale unable to squeeze its way out of a drinking straw.
After adopting a traditional Jewish lifestyle during my senior year of college, my life changed in countless wonderful and unexpected ways. But one of the most important ways my life changed is that I finally learned to value the unfathomable power of a single mitzvah.
This newfound ability to think small enabled me to act, to do, to squeeze my way out of the drinking straw, and to make a real and meaningful impact on the world.
Judaism taught me, at long last, that if you want to fight world hunger, you can start by bringing a pot of soup to a bedridden friend, or by giving a hundred of the thousand dollars you just earned to the local soup kitchen, or by packaging up the leftovers from your birthday party and delivering them to a single-mother who is struggling to pay the rent.
Judaism taught me that if you want to bring peace to the world, you can start by emailing your sister whom you haven't spoken with in three years, or by speaking a little more civilly to your downstairs neighbor who plays her TV way too loud, or by saying "good morning" to the woman you have ignored every morning for the past decade in the elevator you share on the way up to your office on the twelfth floor.
But what difference can these small actions make when the world is such a terrible mess?
What difference can these small actions make? The Midrash tells us the story of an idiot and a wise person. G‑d tells both of them that they must learn the entire Torah. The idiot says, "That's like trying to move a mountain into the sea with a single bucket! I'm no dummy! There's no way I can move a whole mountain…I'm not even going to try!" So he fills up one bucket full of rocks, and falls fast asleep.
The wise person looks at the mountain and says to himself, "I can't move this whole mountain. But G‑d said to do it, so I might as well give it a try. I'm going to get to work. I have nothing to lose, and anyway I get paid by the bucket!"
After the wise person transferred a few buckets full of rock to the sea, it triggered a landslide, and within a minute the whole mountain was swallowed up in one gulp by the sea waiting below.
G‑d is waiting for us to make an effort, no matter how small, to improve the world. It is from these micro-efforts, bucket by bucket, that we, with G‑d's help, will be able to perfect the world.
And that is what I am thinking about as I clean and prepare my home during these weeks leading up to Passover. Pocket by pocket, lego by lego, drawer by drawer, my home is being transformed. My family is leaving Egypt and making our way, ever so slowly, to the Promised Land. Mitzvah by mitzvah, we are making our way to a perfected world.
The great Chassidic Rebbe, the Aish Kodesh, taught that a Jew can only connect with the holy inner essence of Passover through the scrubbing and sorting and cleaning in the days and weeks leading up to Seder night. Just as we cannot feel our internal organs, our hearts, our lungs, our muscles until we move our bodies and we suddenly feel them pumping and beating and straining within us, so, too, we will only be able to experience the hidden holiness and light of Passover after we have moved our bodies and prepared our homes on a physical level.
For me, the most glorious moment of the weeks of Passover preparations is when I wake up a few days before Passover and come downstairs to discover my kitchen glimmering with tinfoil, like a space station orbiting Pluto. All of my cleaning, the child's backpack turned inside out and stuffed into the washing machine, the freezer scrubbed, the oven scoured, has brought my home to a whole new spiritual reality- from slavery to freedom. From exile to redemption.
Pocket by pocket. Lego by lego. Drawer by drawer. Bucket by bucket, by Seder night we will bring the great mountain crashing down into the sea.