To be a Sun: A Reflection for the New Year

Professor Herman Branover relates (Return, 1982.) that once, while in conversation with the Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM, The Rebbe unexpectedly asked him: “What is the unique quality of the sun, which makes everyone consider it a blessing?”

Answering his own question, he continued: “It is, of course, its capacity to give light to the earth.

“What would happen if the sun had the same temperature, the same energy, but did not radiate or give heat? Indeed, there are such stars, called black holes, the force of attraction of which is so strong that not even one light ray can depart from them. If the sun were such a star, whom would it interest then? Of what use would the sun be if it were a black hole?

“So it is with the Jew whose primary function is to put forth light, to radiate, to better his fellow man through the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael. Without this, he would turn into a black hole, when he was created to be a sun.”

The fact of the matter is – whether we are reluctant to recognize it or not – that we all have a sphere of influence.

For some, it is their immediate circle of family and friends. For others – especially those charged with the blessing, responsibility and sacred duty of community leadership – that range of influence is often broad and far-reaching.

Parenthetically, it is worth noting, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out, that within the sphere of leadership itself there are two dimensions: power and influence. Often we confuse the two. After all, those who have power often have influence, and those who have influence have a certain kind of power. In fact, however, the two are quite different, even opposites.

A simple thought-experiment demonstrates this: Imagine you have total power, which you then decide to share with nine others. You are now left with one-tenth of the power with which you began. Conversely, if you have a certain measure of influence, and now you share it with nine others, how much do you have left? Not less. In fact, more! Initially, there was only one of you; now there are ten. Your influence has spread.

Power functions by division, influence by multiplication. The more power we share, the less we have. The more influence we share, the more we have.

Yet, people still contend for power without realizing how narrow its limits are. It is one thing to compel others to behave a certain way; quite another to teach them to see the world differently so that, by their own volition, they act in a new way.

“If you want to build a ship,” says Antoine de St. Exupery, “Don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

The use of power diminishes others; the exercise of influence enlarges them. That is one of Judaism’s most humanizing truths. Not all of us have power, but we are all capable of being an influence for good.

Regardless of the scope, every day each and every one of us is faced with a choice:

We can choose to be a “sun.” To be a source of light, love, compassion, understanding, goodwill, respect empathy and camaraderie.

Alternatively, we can choose to be a “black hole.” To sow seeds of fear, suspicion, distrust, rivalry, bigotry, and apathy.

As the Torah portion read every year before Rosh Hashanah states: “Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil … and You shall choose life”.

Choose to be a sun. Choose to be a force for the good, a positive influence in your own life, the lives of your family and that of your community.

Shana Tova Umetuka, friends. May it be a year of only good for us all!