In my freshman year, I attended Brandeis University, which I really enjoyed. There was a lot of musical activity on campus. They had a regular choir, a black Gospel choir – but there wasn’t a Jewish choir. Seeing as at the time Brandeis was about 70 percent Jewish, I thought this was an oversight that needed rectifying. So I went to the Hillel Student Society and asked if I could form a Jewish choir for the next year and if they would take care of the logistics and finances. They agreed.
My next step was to contact the music department on campus and see if anyone would be interested in conducting it. I found a graduate student who seemed eager to do so. Everything was in place for the inauguration of the first Brandeis Jewish Choir the following year. Except for me. Due to financial considerations, I transferred to McGill University in Montreal where I completed my degree.
In May of the following year, I went to visit my friends at Brandeis and noticed a poster advertising a performance (that had already taken place) by The Brandeis Jewish Choir. I did a double take, then contacted the conductor I had found and learned that he and Hillel had gone ahead with the choir in my absence. While I was thrilled about this development, I was a bit disappointed that no one had bothered to tell me about it and I had found out “by chance.”
I don’t know the fate of the choir in subsequent years but an Internet search told me there were now several Jewish choirs and music groups on campus. Did I set a precedent? Who knows?
A few years ago, I spoke to a woman who told me that she and a group of women had undertaken to learn a book on shmirat halashon in the merit of a friend of theirs who was undergoing treatments for cancer. The book they had chosen was Finding the Right Words written by me. Each lady had procured a copy of the book and when they made a siyum, they also had a seudat hodayah to celebrate the woman being, Baruch Hashem, cancer free. I was honored and humbled by the fact that they had chosen my book for this mitzvah. Again, I found out about this after the fact.
A couple of years ago, on my last visit to Toronto, I was staying with a close friend. She had been my roommate in an apartment in the student ghetto near McGill. Another friend came to visit us and we reminisced.
While we were tripping down memory lane, he mentioned an episode where I had apparently given someone mussar on the street (I did this even before I was religious). I had absolutely no recollection of the incident (although it sounded like something I would do) and even now, I can’t recall what he had told me about it. Generally speaking, I have a very good memory but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember it although it had obviously made an impression on him.
When we recall our deeds each year, there are many that we don’t remember, most whose ramifications we don’t know about and others that take on a life of their own after we have brought them into the world. This is true for good and for bad. We tend to minimize our influence because there’s no way we can possibly imagine how far it extends. Like an iceberg, we only see about ten percent of how our lives play out. And we will be truly (and hopefully pleasantly) surprised when at our Day of Judgment we see our impact on the world and go, “Wow! Did I really do all that?!
Our actions, our words, even our thoughts resound through eternity, touching the lives of so many countless others. Our potential is infinite and the knowledge of our impact is to a large extent hidden from us. We can leave, in the rather limited time we are here, a completely limitless impression on the world, influencing it indefinitely, infinitely, and for all eternity, with every action at any given moment.
That’s both a great achievement and a heavy responsibility. Let us understand this, embrace it and continue to shine our light that travels great distances to destinations unforeseen.