As human beings and as Jews, we often consider the legacies that others have left before us and the legacy we ourselves want to leave behind. However, we rarely question why we feel this need to impart a legacy wherever we are. Is this concept of leaving behind a “legacy” and in end in of itself, or is there a greater purpose to it?
We can look at this idea of a legacy in two ways. On the one hand, it can all be about having great impacts on those around us and the community we are a part of. On the other hand, leaving a legacy can be seen as a selfish act, where our personal growth and feeling of self-fulfillment are the main purpose. Is one way ultimately better than the other? Does one motivation for leaving a legacy produce more lasting effects than the other?
Within Judaism, we see the complexity of leaving “legacies” through the idea of chesed, kindness. True chesed entails the giving of oneself to help another without regard to compensation. Within the books of the Torah, we are bookended by acts of chessed, with God clothing Adam and Eve and ending when God buries Moshe Rabbeinu–two different, yet impactful, forms of chesed, kindness.
These acts of chesed were rooted in God’s pure love for Adam, Eve and Moshe, as were many other acts of chesed within Tanach. Chesed is a daily requirement and it is most evidently manifested in the act of giving. It implies attitudes integral to the person’s character, inseparable from one’s inner nature, and spans the whole range of virtues which operate in any type of relationship or setting one is in.
We can see from God’s example that these acts of kindness should be done out of pure love, rather than for personal growth or being recognized by the greater community. If we spend all of our time focusing on who our acts of kindness are for, we may miss the ultimate point. The reason why we choose to do these acts should be because it comes from a place of simply wanting to do what we think is right. It should come from a place of wanting to have an impact, for personal and communal reasons, but that only gets us so far.
When we want to do great things that we hope will have lasting impacts, we must also acknowledge the lack of control we have over our own legacies. Wanting to be able to say we have left a “legacy” cannot be the be the ultimate goal. We can try our best to leave this legacy, but the truth is that whether or not our acts create lasting change–and so a real legacy–is dependent on the people that surround us and the people that will come after us. It depends on how much you care to do and care to give, but also how much they choose to receive.
So, if we cannot know who will follow us, then how can we try our best to make an impact? How can do the most to ensure that the effects of our change will last even when we have moved on? The best way we can have an influence and impact on those around us, and ultimately leave a legacy is through these acts of kindness, these acts of goodness for the complete sake of doing good because we want to and because we care.
For the last two years, a question that has constantly run through my mind is, “what will I do at Yeshiva University that will allow me to leave my mark?” Not until this year, after adjusting to the title of President of Sy Syms on the Beren campus, have I realized that I had been approaching the idea of leaving my mark all wrong. There is no one challenge that I can choose to tackle just so that my name will be remembered. If the challenges I choose to pursue are not inherently acts of goodness and are not meaningful to the student body, there will be no benefit for myself or for those around me. Individuals within Yeshiva University on both the Beren and Wilf campus have exemplified this idea through their genuine care for YU, taking their desire to help the greater community, and ultimately leaving a legacy, with students following in their footsteps for a long time to come.
Tuvie Miller, despite pushback, created the first women’s Beit Midrash on the Wilf campus in the YU library. Noam Safier and Rachel Rolnick changed what used to be the Chanukah concert to a more cost-friendly, student centered event, now known as Chanukahfest. Dena Katz challenged the status quo and got tampons on the Wilf campus in the women’s bathrooms. The Shabbat Enhancement Committee getting a minyan started on the Beren Campus every shabbat that is not a co-ed one. These are just a glimpse of the work students have done because they decided to just do; their actions had lasting impact because they were focused, not on themselves, but on how they could do good and help students.They put in the effort and they saw results, and that personal effort is what moves us forward.
Through the acts chesed these individuals embody this concept of leaving a legacy. When they saw the need for change, they all took it upon themselves to just do it. If there is one thing I plan on taking with me throughout my last year in Yeshiva University, it is keep going pursuing the changes I believe in because I care and to keep moving forward because I know that the acts I choose to do have the potential to have an effect for good. And if I choose to act out of true chesed and am guided by the needs of those around me, then they may just leave a mark–a legacy–in the future too.