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Posted on May 2, 2019 (5779) By Rabbi Label Lam | Series: | Level:

And no man shall be in the Tent of Meeting when he comes to effect atonement in the Holy, until he comes out. And he shall effect atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel. (Vayikra 16:17)

I am struck by the list of recipients of atonement and the order. Why is it not just “all the congregation of Israel”? That would include the Kohain Gadol and his family. Why must he be atoned for first and his household before affecting atonement for the nation?

I have a dangerous habit. I like to read bumper stickers. Sometimes the print is awfully small and in order to read it one has to get close enough, at a traffic light of course. Some are humorous. I saw one that read, “Maybe the Hokey Pokey is really what’s it’s all about!” Somehow I doubt it! Some I find aggravating and absurd. On two sides of the same bumper, one reads, “Pro-Choice” and the other says, “Imagine World Peace”. Hard to visualize both in one picture! Every once in a while I see one that I absolutely agree with. It may even be stating a Torah true principle. Try for example this one, “Think Global! Act Local!” I love it!

There are many people with noble intentions, and we know what which road is paved with good intentions, who are actively trying to change the world. There are generally two approaches. Only one has the desired affect while the other tends to do more harm than good.

One type is very busy thinking local about them-selves while acting global. They are actually actively trying to change themselves through the world. Absurdly, some imagine that if they improve the world then they will somehow – magically become that much better. If one cannot change himself then how can he hope to change the world?

They tend to project their shortcomings and foibles on the world. Then they try to fix those far away problems. It does solve their own personal issues, as their eyes are on the end of the earth. The results of their efforts, as idealistic as they may be, are predictably meager because their real intention is to enrich or improve themselves through a world they cannot help. It’s like someone who is not happy with the way they look so they begin to paint the mirror. While the mirror gets smeared they remain unchanged.

The other approach is what the Talmud calls, “the longer way which is a short way”. Thinking global while acting local means – “being the change that you wish to see in the world”. In one place the Talmud expresses it like this, “Fix up yourself first and then others!” In Pirke Avos Hillel famously stated, “If I am not for me who will be for me, and if I am only for me then what am I, and if not now then when!?” If I do not develop myself first then who else can do that for me. If I remain unimproved, then I am trapped in true and deep identity crisis. The point of my fixing my-self is to become a resource to help others who want to develop themselves and help others. If the goal of my-self improvement is just for me, then it is not an identity crisis any more but a humanity crisis, “what am I?!” The reason I work on me is because the world, the people around me, need a better and more resourceful version of me!

Reb Yisrael Salanter, the father of the Mussar Movement, declared that when he was young he wanted to change the world. Then he realized there was enough work to do in his community. Later he realized that he needed to cure himself. He ended up changing the world.