The Power of One
December 11, 2010
This past Thursday night, Sally and I, along with many of you, had the opportunity to attend the Associated Federation of Jewish Charities Campaign Kick Off event. It was held in the ballroom of the downtown Sheraton Hotel. There was literally not an empty seat in the room as we heard a provocative and stirring message from Leigh Anne Tuohy of Memphis, Tennessee, the protagonist of the book and later the movie “Blind Side.” You may recall that Sandra Bullock portrayed her in the movie and Tim McGraw played her husband, Sean. Leigh Anne Tuohy is a petite and attractive blond who is a veritable dynamo. She is articulate, funny, and self-deprecatory. She made everyone laugh when, among many other humorous moments, she said that she wished her husband had Tim McGraw’s body. Leigh Anne’s more than fifteen minutes of fame began when she brought the homeless and bereft sixteen year old Michael Oher into her home. Michael was a six foot six, 350 pound young black man who literally had no place to sleep, no food to eat, and no clothes to keep him harm. Leigh Anne brought him to the attention of the football coach at the tony all white school her children attended, Briarcrest Christian, where he became a star football player. With the help of a personal tutor provided by the Tuohys, who by this time had adopted him, he was able to keep up his grades and earn a scholarship to Ole Miss where he became an All American left offensive tackle. The movie ends when he is drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. Michael Oher, who starts for the Ravens, briefly addressed us as well. The contrast between the tiny mom and her huge son could not be more apparent.
Leigh Anne spoke about the power of one, how one person can make a significant difference in the lives of others. The Tuohys taught us about how we can personally change the world. The rabbis taught us that one who saves a single life saves an entire world. The Tuohys, through their adoption and support of Michael, gave him every opportunity to succeed, to make something of himself, and to allow his natural abilities to come to the fore. This is a story of nurture over nature, of hope over despair, of sacrifice over selfishness. Leigh Anne Tuohy fought for her adopted son every step of his way. Through her love, we learned about selflessness and the true meaning of love.
In Hebrew, every word is based on a three letter root. The Hebrew word for love, Ahava, is based on the three letters, aleph, hay, and vet. The root meaning of this word is “I will give.”
The essence of love is giving of oneself to others. This is exemplified in our Torah portion for this morning. The young and arrogant Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Over time, he matured and was brought up from an Egyptian dungeon so that he might interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh recognized his gifts and made him prime minister over all of Egypt, to organize Egypt so that it could prosper during seven years of plenty and survive during seven years of famine. Joseph, however, had never forgiven his brothers for what they did to him. In last week’s Torah reading, the brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph sold them grain, accused them of being spies, and imprisoned Simeon. Joseph told them not to return until they brought with them his beloved younger brother, Benjamin. The brothers explained that Benjamin was so dear to their aged father, that if anything happened to him, their father would die. Nevertheless, famine forced them to return to Egypt with Benjamin. Joseph had him arrested on a trumped up charge and the brothers now believed that this was punishment for their earlier treatment of Joseph. Overcome by love for his father and Benjamin and guilt for what the brothers did to Joseph, one of the brothers, Judah, took the initiative and offered himself as a prisoner in place of his brother Benjamin. This selfless act of love so moved Joseph that he could no longer control himself. Joseph revealed his true identity to his startled brothers and began the process of reconciliation that brought his father, Jacob, and the entire house of Israel to Egypt. Such is the power of love. Such is the power of one.
Our bar mitzvah this morning, Lucas, also exhibited the power of one and the power of love when he raised $1,500 for the Friends of the IDF. This was not easy for Lucas but he persevered until he reached his goal. This most worthwhile organization provides scholarships and other opportunities for Israeli soldiers that the Israeli government is not able to provide. Just a few weeks ago, a young Ethiopian Israeli spoke from this pulpit and told us how a scholarship from the FIDF allowed him to graduate from Hebrew University. This gift literally gave him the opportunity to change his life. Now, through his work, he is helping to better the lives of other Ethiopian Jews in Israel. We applaud Lucas for his initiative. Through the power of his actions, he may very well help save another life. After all, he who saves a single life saves an entire one.
Lucas and Leigh Anne Tuohy remind us of how instrumental and important is the Power of One and the power of love. It is an important reminder of the difference we can make now and always in the lives of others.
Amen and Shabbat Shalom