A favorite excerpt from a must-read book, “My Grandfather’s Blessings,” by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD:
The story (my grandfather) told me is very old and dates from the time of the prophet Isaiah. It is the legend of the Lamed-Vow. In this story, God tells us that He will allow the world to continue as long as at any given time there is a minimum of thirty-six good people in the human race. People who are capable of responding to the suffering that is a part of the human condition. These thirty-six are called the Lamed-Vow. If at any time, there are fewer than thirty-six such people alive, the world will come to an end.
“Do you know who these people are, Grandpa? I asked, certain that he would say “Yes,” But he shook his head. “No, Neshume–le,” he told me. “Only God knows who the Lamed-Vovniks are. Even the Lamed-Vovniks themselves do not know for sure the role they have in the continuation of the world, and no one else knows it either. They respond to suffering, not in order to save the world but simply because the suffering of others touches them and matters to them.”
It turned out that Lamed-Vovniks could be tailors or college professors, millionaires or paupers, powerful leaders or powerless victims. These things were not important. What mattered was only their capacity to feel the collective suffering of the human race and to respond to the suffering around them. “And because no one knows who they are, Neshume–le, anyone you meet might be one of the thirty-six for whom God preserves the world,” my grandfather said. “It is important to treat everyone as if this might be so.'”
Kind of makes me think twice at flipping the bird at the next guy who accidentally cuts me off on the highway….