The Butterfly Effect - Everything Counts

By Chana-Chaya Klein


What counts more? How you speak to a cashier in the supermarket or how you speak to the head of your child's yeshiva? How you take care of a stranger or how you care for your child? What if the effect were equal? What if both situations produced equally strong outcomes?


The effect of one action! Does it really matter what you do in every little thing? It's just one little thing and no one may ever know. How could your allowing another car into your lane on the turnpike affect the world? How could your waking up and saying the morning prayer, Modeh Ani, affect the world? How could davening (praying) in a minyan for mincha, the afternoon prayer, affect anyone, even you?


Did you ever hear of the Butterfly Effect? It was originally presented by Edward Lorenz in 1963 as a scientific paper to The New York Academy of Sciences. Basically it says that every little thing we do can have enormous repercussions. It states, in scientific terms, that when a butterfly flaps its wings, it moves molecules of air, which move other molecules, which move others, and those eventually are capable of creating great weather changes like a hurricane or a tornado on the other side of the world.


Later, scientists proved that the same principal works with every form of moving matter including people. So, it was designated as a scientific law: The Law of Sensitive Dependence upon Initial Conditions.


What is it to us? Why would we want to even read about the Butterfly Effect? Why might we need to be aware of it?


One moment of talking to God seen by another and how many people were affected without that man even knowing?


Rabbi Simcha Weinberg tells the story of a congregant who davened at the Kotel. Another congregant watched him and was so moved by his stance that he began taking on some of the commandments. The man davening had no idea how his own communication with the Almighty affected another person. It is likely that the man's being inspired by another's way of praying in turn had an effect on his wife, his children and others. How many generations can have been affected by this one man's stance as he davened, something the man probably did not give any thought to, or even think mattered? He will likely find out about it when he goes to the next world. How many things do we do without knowing that they may have a huge effect on the world?


Do we know the effect of our smile on a stranger, on our child, on our spouse, or on our friend? Do we know how far reaching an act of kindness goes, and equally an act that lacks kindness? In the same way, what is the effect of snubbing someone when they greet you, or of not responding to a "Good Shabbos" or to "Hello"? What about leaving people out of feeling like they belong? What is the effect of seeing a new person in a place of worship or someplace else having no one greet them to make them feel welcome?


Every action, significant or insignificant to you has the potential to change the world. 


My husband invited members of his office staff to our wedding. Angelica was a new immigrant from Russia. I really had no recollection of speaking with her at our wedding. But three years after our wedding she called me to tell me she was learning Torah. She wanted me to know that my speaking with her so warmly and so welcoming at our wedding made her want to know more about her own being Jewish. How could I have known that I affected her? What if I had not treated her with warmth?


Everything we do counts. Everything we do has an effect on the world. Angelica has children. She mentioned that her daughter was studying with her. And how might that affect her daughter's children? How might it affect their children as well?


The butterfly effect  - one flap of the wings of a butterfly can be part of the cause of a tornado on the other side of the world.


It is written that a five year old girl told her parents that her mother is destined to bear a son who will save Israel. As a result her father remarried her mother and all of Israel did the same. What Miriam said to her parents thousands of years ago, still greatly affects our lives today. What if Moshe Rabbeinu had not been born? How has his birth affected each of us as individuals and as a nation? His birth affected the secular world as well. Wouldn't people still be sacrificing children had he not been born?


The butterfly effect - The effect of every action, significant or insignificant has the potential to extend to the whole world and to endure for generations.


How many of us have reached out to get something without even giving it a thought or even remembering doing so?


The daughter of Pharoah saw a baby floating in a basket. Without thinking about who he was, she instinctively reached out her arm to bring the baby out of the water. She saw he was a Hebrew and named him Moshe. One reach, one momentary reaction to seeing a baby in a basket in the water. The result of that one momentary action was that the Jews left Egypt and entered Israel, the Torah was given, the values and natural laws for the whole world changed. There were just too many effects of that one stretch of the arm to even imagine.


The Butterfly Effect - one action insignificant in our minds has huge consequences. Everything we do counts. Everything matters.


In my own experience - One woman's response to my cry, one action, one moment in time.


"I can't," I cried to the Physical Therapist who was teaching me to use crutches to walk up steps. I quickly landed my butt on the glossy, grey hospital step. She came down to where I was sitting. Looking at me, she put her hands on the sides of my face moving my head so that our eyes met. "There is no such thing as can't." she said to me. And repeated, "There is no such thing as can't."


For this physical therapist, it was one patient, one moment of a likely busy day. She could have been annoyed at an eleven year old who found the steps too challenging.  Or she could have felt pity for me and told me that I don't have to do it today.


Instead, she recognized my old belief system that had been based in too many failures for one child.


That one statement, that one moment in her life, this physical therapist may have even forgotten, because that was her way. She may have forgotten me, the adolescent who said "I can't!" Yet, that one moment, that one statement, changed my belief system about what is possible, and thereby changed my life from that moment forward.


It helped me to eventually walk and it helped me much later, as a senior in high school, to figure out how to read. She was correct. There is no such thing as can't. She said it at just the right moment. I don't even remember her name. But her words, her decision to not let me get by without great effort affected me. 


The idea that all things are possible changed my life and influenced all of the children who had me as their teacher, influenced my family, my friends and anyone who ever spoke with me.  All, in some way, got to see that there is no such thing as can't, just like the woman said.


How many people besides me were deeply affected and moved on to being productive and having more self esteem through that one woman's statement to me more than 50 years ago - "There is no such thing as can't."


Everything we do and think affects everyone else. What we do and think matters.


If the butterfly could flap its wings and move molecules and eventually create a hurricane on the other side of the world, then how much more powerful are you and I?

What we do matters. The effect of every action, significant or insignificant has the potential to extend to the whole world and to endure for generations.


What you do and what I do counts!

Copyright © 2010 COPYRIGHT CHANA KLEIN. All rights reserved.


Return to the STORIES page


back to top