Change Yourself, Change the World.
I have always aspired to change the world or at least make an impact in my own community. However, years ago, I encountered a teaching from Rabbi Israel Salanter that made me reconsider my approach. He said:
"When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. But I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn't change my country, I began to focus on my town. However, I discovered that I couldn't change the town, and so as I grew older, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, but I've come to recognize that if long ago I had started with myself, then I could have made an impact on my family. And, my family and I could have made an impact on our town. And that, in turn, could have changed the country and we could all indeed have changed the world."
This lesson was recently brought to my attention again through an article by Rabbi Benji Levy. In this week's Torah portion Vayechi (literally, "and he lived"), the patriarch Jacob gathers his 12 sons to give them blessings before he dies. Joseph shows profound respect for his father by bowing his head, even though his father is blind and cannot see the gesture. Joseph understands that showing respect, which is something we are commanded to do, is not only about the recipient or the lessons his children will learn by watching the action, but it's also about refining himself as a human being.
Joseph's lesson is relevant to all of us in that it emphasizes the importance of focusing on ourselves and how, in doing so, we can impact our families, communities, and the world around us.