What the torah says about…Stephen Sutton
By Rabbi Jonny Roodyn
“Hi! My name’s Stephen and I’m pretty much like your average teenager.” So said one of the most extraordinary young men to have graced our lives. Stephen Sutton, the teenage cancer victim who inspired a nation battling against an age-old disease, died on 19 May having raised more than £3million for the Teenage Cancer Trust.
The 19-year-old had intended to study medicine at Cambridge University after receiving straight-As in his A-level examination results. What a tragic irony it was therefore that his illness represented the fates of those whom he one day sought to help himself. Regardless of his passing, Stephen’s JustGiving page has continued to accumulate funds and is close to breaking the £4million mark. The nation has recognised his posthumous effect on the world and people from all different backgrounds, regardless of their own health or interaction to the disease, are opting to donate to this worthwhile cause.
Charity and kindness are perhaps the two foremost (positive) themes most frequently associated with religion. As far as Judaism is concerned, these themes are ubiquitous throughout Torah thought and their origin can even be associated to early Judaism itself. Last week’s Parsha, Nasso begins with the continuation of the census that began in Bamidbar.
One explanation for this census that bears pertinence to this discussion begins by questioning the practice of donating a half-shekel as a representation of oneself. Why take a census in such a strange way? Why not simply count with numbers?One reason given is that despite popular perception, throughout history we have not been a numerous nation. Thus the minute that we begin to rely on numbers as our strength, it will become the beginning of our downfall.
The important thing therefore is to consider not our numbers, but rather the contribution we make to the world. Rather than be counted normally, we must give of our own to be counted. What defines us therefore is not how many we are in number, but rather what we give to this world and the difference we make to it. Stephen Sutton may not have found the cure for cancer, nor was he able personally to cure anyone himself.
However, his efforts, along with those of the rest of the nation, allowed for humans all over to contribute of themselves in an effort to help change this world for the better. Indeed, while £4million may be raised by many, the funds were a result of the efforts and inspiration of one. May his death and ultimately his life be an inspiration to us all.
Rabbi Jonny Roodyn, AishUK. Twitter: @rjroodyn