G’millut Chassadim: A Kavannah for Thanksgivvukah Nov 15 Shabbat Inspiration by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz. A little over a week ago, there was a remarkable photo in the news. I hope you saw it. It pictured a Jewish man on a New York City subway who allowed another passenger to fall asleep with his head resting on his shoulder, as it turned out, for nearly an hour.
As that man said, “there is only one reason that I didn’t move, and let him continue sleeping. He was simply a human being who was exhausted, and I knew it and happened to be there and have a big shoulder to offer him.”
There are many things we can learn from that incident. Clearly this demonstrates kindness to strangers….a trait we’ve seen in some of the stories of our Patriarchs, but it teaches us something about ourselves. Think how you felt when you saw that photo. I know that I felt a sense of pride that the person who was offering such chessed, such lovingkindness, was a Jewish man—-his kippah was the clue of his Jewishness, but his action epitomized “v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha”—the imperative to love your neighbor as yourself. Okay, we’re now taught not to speak to strangers…but there is something very basic, very human, very Jewish about extending simple kindness to another being.
Another incident….this one didn’t make the newspaper, but I share it with you with the permission of one of our own congregants, Nancey Kasse—Naftala, as we have come to know her. Well, Naftala was driving down a street yesterday and saw a pigeon in the middle of the road. It was not moving, clearly injured, and would have been an easy target for the next SUV that might unthinkingly come barreling down the street. Instinctively, out of rachmoness for the creature, Naftala pulled over, took the only thing she had with her to wrap the bird…..the tallit she had just used moments before for her Shacharit prayers, and tenderly wrapped the bird, whose leg was probably broken and who, by now, was bleeding. But then what? Knowing she was not able to care for the bird, she prayed to G-d to either heal the bird or mercifully take the bird’s life. Just then, a stranger pulled up, and, seeing the predicament, directed her to a nearby veterinarian, who quickly put the pigeon out of its pain. G’millut chessed…..an act of lovingkindness…on the part of the woman who picked up the bird, the stranger who stopped to direct her to the vet’s office, and the doctor who did what needed to be done.
Pirkei Avot, the Sayings of our Forefathers, teaches: “Al shlosha d’varim, ha-olam omeid: Al haTorah, al ha-avodah, v’al g’milut chassadim.” —By three things is the world sustained: the Law, the Temple service, and acts of lovingkindness.
This morning I attended the levayyah of Judith Laxmeter, aleha haShalom. A levayyah is commonly known as a funeral, but what it really means is the accompanying or lifting up of the neshamah, the soul of one who has passed away. Judith was the wife of Rabbi Michael Laxmeter, and Judy and Mike were married for 46 years, having moved to Las Vegas two years ago to retire. But when they moved here, Judy was already suffering a brain tumor and subsequent strokes. It was an agonizing two years for both of them, as she suffered greatly. Yet, on every Friday evening, at their Shabbat table, over which she had calmly presided for all the previous years of their wedded life, Rabbi Laxmeter continued to recite to his beloved wife the words of praise each Jewish husband traditionally recites to his wife….the passage from Proverbs 30 known as the Eishet Chayil….A Woman of Valor. At the funeral this morning, Rabbi Laxmeter delivered a eulogy based on the Eishet Chayil, and recited how she so epitomized that laudatory poem. What struck me, as he retold how she had been a nurse in a burn unit, how she tended to their children and grandchildren, how she would go to help out friends and strangers, how she shared her cooking talents with so many….and how she did it all with genuine love—-it struck me how much Judith’s kindness will be her legacy.
We have many examples of kindness in the stories in the Tanach….Avraham’s hachnassat orchim, hospitality to the three visitors/angels; Rebecca’s passing the “camel test” when she was asked to share a sip of water with Eliezer, did so, and then ran to do the mitzvah of hauling water and giving drink to his camels; and Yaakov’s gesture of chivalry (about which we read last week), when he rolled back the stone over the well, so that Rachel wouldn’t have to. And there are many more stories of g’millut chassadim.
Sometimes we hear the accounts of other people’s kindness, like the story of Ben Pesta, the publisher of the men’s magazine “Muscle and Fitness” who was approached by a petite young lady as he was waiting to fly out to Los Angeles from Mexico City after an earthquake had hit there. In broken English she conveyed to him her desire to let her familia, her family in Los Angeles, know that she was safe. She handed him several pieces of lined school filler paper with notes scrawled on them. Then with tears she handed him bundles of papers, with the numbers of more relatives in El Paso and Portland. He understood what it must have taken for her to muster up the courage to walk up to a stranger and ask for a favor….and he replied: “Of course I’ll do it—naturalamente.” All she could reply was “Oh gracias, gracias.” Rather than put off the responsibility, no mitzvah, that had been given to him, Mr. Pesta put off his own sleep, and went to work immediately upon returning to Los Angeles, calling one after another, speaking to them each in broken Spanish. “Senior Valles, todu su familia in Mexico City estan bien….all of your family in Mexico City is safe.” One after another, the recipients of the phone calls responded with deep gratitude. The last call was an old grandmother, who kept him on the phone a long time, and finally asked who he was. “Solo un turisto,” he responded.
“No, no, no, Senior,” she insisted. “No turisto. Usted es un angel.” You are an angel.
I know you each have wonderful stories of g’millut chassadim, and I hope you will begin sharing them with one another and with me at the Oneg Shabbat, following services….or by an e-mail to me at your leisure.
The truth is that we all have the opportunity to do random acts of kindness—some as heroic as the Israeli medics who flew all night to the Phillipines and quickly erected a field hospital on one of the poorest islands hit by Typhoon Hyann. And some of these acts of kindness are done without even being aware that we’re doing them. Those of you who donate to my discretionary fund will never know how you honor me with the ability to do acts of kindness all the time. I am deeply grateful for your enabling me to help others as you do.
Thanksgiving is coming; so is Chanukah….this year simultaneously: Thanksgivvukah. This year let us be grateful for whatever we have and for all we have; let us give of ourselves with full and generous hearts, and let us rededicate ourselves to consciously doing g’millut chassadim….acts of lovingkindness—-perhaps purposely doing an act of kindness on each of the eight days of this Chag HaUrim, this festival of lights.
The late Mother Teresa (zichrona la-tzaddik) said, “Be kind and merciful. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of G-d’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting. In the slums we are the light of G-d’s kindness to the poor. To children, to the poor, to all who suffer and are lonely, give always a happy smile. Give them not only your care, but your heart.”
May your Thanksgiving be meaningful; may your Chanukah be profound; and may you fill your life with significant acts of kindness. Ken y’hi ratzon
Rabbi Yocheved Mintz
Congregation P’nai Tikvah
November 15, 2013