CONTENTS AT A
LET YOUR HOME BE A BASE FOR
TORAH AND MITZVOS
EVERYDAY JEWS CAN
SPREAD A KINDNESS EPIDEMIC
MITZVA PROJECTS THAT WOMEN
MITZVA PROJECTS THAT MEN CAN
MITZVA PROJECTS THAT
COUPLES CAN UNDERTAKE
MITZVA PROJECTS THAT
FAMILIES CAN UNDERTAKE
WHEN KINDNESS TO OTHERS
IS IN CONFLICT WITH YOUR SPOUSE, FAMILY OR NEIGHBORS
ONCE YOU'VE BUILT ON THIS
LEVEL, MOVE ON TO THE NEXT
LET YOUR HOME BE A BASE FOR
TORAH AND MITZVOS
When a Jewish home is truly functioning
well and healthily, its energies are not drained away by internal troubles, while all of
the practical needs and responsibilities of life are satisfactorily taken care of.
Energies are available for progressively greater and greater levels of avodas Hashem
(service of G-d), without this being at the expense of family members. The healthy and
Torah-dik home can become a center for Torah and mitzva projects.
The first chapter of Pirkei Avos says that
your house should be for the congregating of Torah instruction, and a center of
lovingkindness, especially to the poor. Madrich LeChasonim [Guide To Grooms] writes that
love of Torah and of Jews should fill the air of your home. Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen writes
that a Jew is commanded in three loves: for G-d, for Torah and for Jews. To love one or
two can lead to perversion. When you love all three, you have balance and completeness in
all your loves. Within any of your actions, there must never be any contradiction between
any of these three loves. The Zohar says that the Jew, the Torah and G-d are all one. By
setting up your home for the dissemination of Torah and lovingkindness to Jews, as
expressions of your devotion to G-d, you promote a sweet and loving atmosphere for your
marriage and family.
An elderly lady once emotionally said to me
that she was a guest for shaboses in a home which "has so much love." What is
striking about this story is that the lady, who was in her late seventies at the time, had
not been raised observantly. Because of the enormous love in this particular family, she
was influenced by it and became frum at this advanced age. The wife helped the lady
acquire a shaitl [wig] to cover her hair. The children called her "bubbi
[grandma]" as if she was part of the family. She had difficulty walking on her
pain-ridden old feet, so two of the teenage daughters always walked her all the way home
every time she came for regular shabos and yom tov meals. I myself saw this family's love
transform this woman into a practicing Jew. I knew this woman before and after she started
covering her hair and keeping shabos and koshruss. Because of the family's clear and
apparent love-atmosphere, this family was a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d).
Kindness is giving what a recipient wants,
and doing it in the nicest possible way; the other person's materialism is your
spirituality (Rabbi Yisroel Salanter). Kindness - whether with your spouse, children or
the community at large - must be done with a cheerful and respectful attitude. The same
way that you would like to be loved, respected and given to unconditionally, so does the
Rabainu Bachya wrote that one's eternal
reward for a mitzva is determined ENTIRELY by the quality of the internal intentions and
feelings that one does it with. It is not enough to do mitzvos mechanically.
The Prophet Mica (6:8) says, "He [G-d]
told you what is good and what He requires of you; do justice, love kindness and walk
modestly with your G-d." You have to DO justice. You don't have to love paying the
next guy $35 for something you broke. Just DO it. When it comes to kindness, you must do
it with LOVE. To merely do, to just go through the motions, won't do! You must give your
heart, warmth, concern, understanding, sincerity, zeal, and your smile. Yalkut (# 522, to
Hoshea 6:6) says that acts of kindness that Jews do for each other are precious to G-d.
And EVERYTHING must be done with modesty and humility.
I must stress that the first priorities are
your spouse, children and home. If responsibilities to these are all essentially in order,
then, by all means spread out into meaningful community service and kindnesses, according
to your resources and abilities. But not so as to neglect your first priorities: peace,
security and satisfaction in your family. Laws of priorities are very complex. Take
practical questions to an orthodox rabbi.
EVERYDAY JEWS CAN SPREAD
A KINDNESS EPIDEMIC
A virtuous poor man had a virtuous wife. He
had to hire himself out to work in a field. Once, while he was ploughing, he encountered
Eliyahu HaNovi [Elijah the prophet] in the guise of a beggar, who told him, "You have
six years of wealth to your credit. When do you want them, now or at the end of your
The man replied, "You are playing the
fortune teller in the hope that I will give you charity. I have nothing to give you so go
on your way." Eliyahu came back a second time and a third. Since he insisted so much,
the man said that he would have to consult with his wife before he could reply. He came to
her and, after telling her the story, he asked her advice. She said to ask that the six
years of plenty be sent immediately. He went back and gave his reply. He was immediately
told, "Go home, for the plenty has already come."
Just then, his children were playing and
found in the dirt a treasure sufficient to maintain them for six years. They told their
mother and when their father returned home, she told him the good news. He thanked Hashem
and felt happy and satisfied.
His virtuous wife said, "Since Hashem
has pitied us and given us enough money for six years, it behooves us to do acts of
kindness during this time. Perhaps He will add to this amount from His treasury." She
told her youngest son to write every day any sum which was given for a mitzva.
Six years later, Eliyahu returned and said,
"The time has come to take away what you have." The man said, "When I took
it, it was only after consulting my wife. When I give it back, I have to consult with her,
so let me talk with her first." When she heard her husband's news, she said, "Go
and tell him, 'If you have found people who are more fit than we are, take the money which
you entrusted to us." When Hashem heard this reply and noted their many kind deeds,
He blessed them with much more (Yalkut Shimoni Ruth).
About a century ago in Europe, a wealthy
Jewish man owned a huge palacial home which had a plush white carpet. As one who loved
mitzvos, he invited guests to generously bestow hospitality upon them them.
One time, a poor man came to the door. He
was disheveled and filthy. Nevertheless the kind, wealthy man invited him in to eat.
The host had not noticed that guest's boots
were filthy. The guest trampled on the clean white carpet, leaving a trail of muddy
footprints. What did the good-hearted host do? He ordered that the carpet be immediately
pulled up and discarded, so that if ever a poor or dirty guest came for hospitality, the
guest would never coming to be hurt or shamed for damaging the carpet.
Scripture urges, "Chase after chesed
and tzadaka (active lovingkindness and generous charity; Proverbs 21:21)." It is not
enough for the Jew to be kind or charitable when the opportunity comes to him or her. The
Jew may not withhold any property, capability or power that one has. It is the Jew's job
to pursue, if not create, opportunities to do meaningful, significant and profuse kindness
and charity with every possible resource - money, talent, intellect, abilities, etc.
(Maharal, Nesivos Olam). Let's see how Jewish individuals, couples and families can bring
this to fruition.
In a healthy marriage, the couple can often
undertake significant kindness projects with no significant shortchanging of the family's
needs and no contradiction to the family's basic normal routine. To the extent that
circumstances allow, encourage each other to do acts and projects of kindness and
community service. If there are kindness-related subjects to talk about, this is good for
the marriage relationship and for conversation at the table. If there aren't community
projects or kindness groups, a husband might consider encouraging his wife to form one.
This can take on many forms, depending on the community, the needs, and the resources and
personalities available. The Jewish people are not merely a nation. We are all descendants
of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yakov. WE ARE ALL COUSINS! WE ARE ALL FAMILY! Doing mitzvos for
fellow Jew means doing good for extended family! One is hard put to find anything more
constructive or fulfilling.
MITZVA PROJECTS THAT WOMEN
Some examples of woman-driven projects that
have been successfully done (doing a lot of good for the communities and marriages
involved) include such all-volunteer mitzva projects as:
* bikur cholim (visiting and caring for the
needs of the sick in an organized and ongoing way - in private homes, nursing homes and
hospitals) - one group has busses that leave every morning Sunday-Friday on a set schedule
from Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn for all the major hospitals in Manhattan (New York
City) to visit Jewish patients (even strangers) bringing
* kosher food,
* shabos and holiday provisions and
* cheerful encouragement
(the busses return in the afternoon to get
the women home in time to receive their children upon return from yeshiva); another group
runs blood drives every two months (because blood can be healthily donated every 8 weeks)
so that the local hospital can have a specific donation account of clean blood for the
needs of the vicinity of the Jewish community; in a family in my neighborhood, the woman
and her teenage daughter go to the local hospital on a regular schedule to visit Jewish
patients and the mother also visits sick, elderly individuals (strangers) in their home or
nearby hospitals, bringing food that she cooks and an hour of company for these
* neshei ahavas chesed - organized
practical kindness. This group of dedicated women collects used furniture and household
property and, on a waiting list basis, provides a selection of free furniture and other
needed articles to newlywed and impoverished Jews, including immigrants from Russia, Iran
and Israel, and to poor local families. Another division rents wedding gowns and items
that allow making a "budget wedding" (e.g. artificial flowers) all at
"break even" cost (borrower has to launder a wedding gown before returning it).
They have a health care division which avails wheelchairs, crutches, rides to doctors,
etc. Different volunteers are responsible for each division, so that each runs
efficiently. They seek donations of money and property. They publish a Jewish calendar
each year which they distribute around the neighborhood to remind community members all
year to donate money, used clothing, furniture, medical goods, etc.
* gemilus chesed - interest-free loan
society for financial troubles and emergencies, or relief for the unemployed. Money is
raised and loans are provided. Generally, there is an application. A co-signer or two
might be required. Some do a small-scale credit check or require personal reference(s).
Sometimes an upper limit is established for the amount of a loan e.g. three hundred, one
thousand, two thousand, five thousand dollars. When loans are approved, the administrator
collects head checks (e.g. fifty or a hundred dollars each) dated to be payable once per
month, starting in a month or two, for as many months as it takes to pay the loan. The
administrator may have all checks kept in a file, dated on a uniform date (e.g. the first,
15th or last of the month) to simplify the bookkeeping and the deposit function, or may
offer a range of date-options (I know one loan society that offers the options of the 1st,
8th, 15th or 23rd - they are willing to deposit on four occasions per month, to optimize
the helpfulness of the loans). One shul has a loan society which gives the loan, to simply
be paid back in full after a year. Some societies are flexible to truly accommodate the
needs of the borrowers. The point, remember, is practical kindness.
* the "vaad (gathering)" - a
support group for some self-improvement purpose. Two examples of relatively successful
mitzva-vaad gatherings center around "lashon hora (the serious yet common sin of
defaming speech)" or "midos (character development)." The groups offer
feedback and share ideas. A group of same-gender people gets together regularly, e.g. once
a week at a set time. If their goal is to work on lashon hora, the group will learn the
many laws of prohibited speech (slander, gossip, talebearing, revealing secrets, etc.) and
work on strategies for eliminating prohibited speech (e.g. everyone takes a couple hour
shift every week during which they don't talk about people, working to find benefit of the
doubt and exonerating circumstances if another person speaks about people, working on
disbelieving or terminating conversations in which others speak about people). If the goal
is midos (character traits), the group will study midos: good midos to practice and build,
and bad ones to conquer and eliminate. Another variation is getting together to say
Tehillim for people who are seriously ill or in serious trouble (e.g. for a person who is
kidnapped, missing or in jail in a despotic country).
* impromptu kindnesses. When an elderly,
impoverished neighbor - a Russian with no known family - passed away, one woman (on her
own and all on the same day) organized a minyan and funeral, obtained a burial site, and
raised the necessary money, to give a Jew a prompt and honorable funeral, as required by
Torah law. Another woman provides a meal a day every day for an incapacitated and
unemployable neighbor. Another woman delivers food packages on Fridays and the days before
a Yom Tov to poor families in her neighborhood. I know at least two women (in separate
communities) who each arrange a Torah lecture series for neighborhood women in each one's
livingroom every shabos afternoon (during the winter, one arranges to have lecturers speak
Friday evenings, when evenings come early - for the majority of the year, the lecturers
come in the afternoon). I know of these because I was a guest lecturer in both series.
MITZVA PROJECTS THAT MEN CAN
Men can also be involved in noble projects
of all kinds. One dedicated man annually arranges the well-known all-day Tisha B'Av
lecture program each summer and the winter-vacation week-long learning program each
December in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
There is a neighborhood in which the
existing mikva was being used beyond its capacity. Another man in Flatbush was the
catalyst for the construction of another mikva there (i.e. buying a lot and building an
entire building!). He recruited fundraising volunteers, offered his business office
facilities to design and send mailings, generated community involvement and support,
organized a dinner, and personally administered the project for years.
A group of men in Boro Park, Brooklyn
organizes meals provided at a recurrent Torah learning event, to attract Jews to learning
A friend of mine visited Israel in the mid
1990's. One of his stops was at a school that gives free Torah education to approximately
1,000 Russian teenage boys. At one of the prayer services he saw that half of the boys did
not own Tefillin. Upon his return to Brooklyn, he started an organization on his own to
raise funds to buy 500 sets of kosher Tefillin (which cost a few hundred dollars per set)
for the Russian boys who couldn't afford them. One of his methods is to meet with yeshiva
deans to arrange involvement of the fathers of bar-mitzva age boys. When the fathers buy
new Tefillin for their sons, they buy a second pair for one of the boys in the Israeli
school. If the fathers can't afford to buy an extra set of Tefillin, they agree to reduce
the expense of the bar-mitzva reception by the amount of the cost of Tefillin - and,
thereby contribute the Tefillin for a Russian boy!
Reb Chayim of Brisk had an open house. He
considered it to be the property of Hashem. At any time, any number of people could be
found eating or sleeping over, freely coming in and out as if the home were theirs. Two
stories give particular insight to what a master of lovingkindness he was.
A young woman in Reb Chayim's area was in
love with a local man and wanted desperately to marry him. He took advantage of her,
falsely promising he would marry her. After she had been abandoned, she turned out to be
pregnant. She had no relatives to turn to, no way of earning a livelihood and was
disgraced to the point of agony. She knocked on Reb Chayim's door, crying and desperate
for help. The rov was not home and the rebitzen answered the door and asked the girl what
she wanted. She reported to the rebitzen what happened and, crying, explained that she was
in desperate need of help. The rebitzen became furious at her, called her prostitute and
told her harshly to get lost.
When Reb Chayim came home, he saw his wife
muttering about something which evidently had the rebitzen annoyed. He asked her what it
was and she explained how this lowly woman came to the door and had the nerve to expect
them to get involved in her filth.
The rov became upset with her. "You
mean she was crying, alone and in desperate trouble and you threw her out? Go all over
town, do whatever you have to do. Find that girl and apologize to her with all your heart
and bring her back to this house now."
The wife found the young woman in town and
promptly brought her back to the house as her husband said to. The rov kindheartedly
brought the woman into his household through the pregnancy and kept mother and baby in his
house until the child was two years old.
A guest came to eat at the rov's table and
clumsily spilled wine, which badly stained the tablecloth. Reb Chayim promptly tilted the
table and said, "The leg of this table is broken. One simply can't avoid constant
spilling." This way, the guest's feelings were not hurt and his dignity was
MITZVA PROJECTS THAT
COUPLES CAN UNDERTAKE
Couples can work together on kindness
projects. The Torah tells us that Avraham and Sara left for the land of Kanaan. They took
"the souls which they made in Charan (Genesis 12:5)." What is they meaning of
"the souls which they made?"
Rashi explains that Avraham converted the
men and Sora converted the women. When one brings a person "under the wings of the
divine presence," when one spiritually elevates another Jew, the Torah counts it as
if one "made" that person. Therefore, teaching Torah to one's fellow Jew is
reckoned as creating the beneficiary (Sanhedrin 99b). This is a chesed of infinite
proportions because one's Torah and soul are eternal.
Any Jewish man or woman who knows more
Torah than some other man or woman is able to bestow the enormous chesed of teaching
Torah, especially to someone who is off the Torah path or who is exposed to spiritual
vulnerability in his life. Jewish husbands and wives can accomplish enormous chesed by
teaching or sponsoring Torah classes at any and all levels. They can also open their home
for classes and for outreach (kiruv) activities. As individuals or as couples (depending
on individual circumstances), they can be today's Avraham and/or Sara who can "make
souls" of today's Jewish men and women, who can create the "Torah
potential" in other Jews.
People need help with both spiritual and
material needs (Ahavas Chesed). In a similar vein, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said, "Most
people are concerned about their materialism and the next person's spirituality. It should
be the other way around. The Jew is obligated to be concerned with one's own spirituality
and the next person's material well-being. The next person's spirituality is your material
needs. The next person's material needs are your spirituality." We see from Ahavas
Chesed and Rabbi Yisrael that the Torah wants balance.
One couple has organized a board consisting
of volunteer community members (many of whom participate also as couples) which manages -
operating basically like a big corporation (just more informally and out of each
volunteer's home) - eleven kindness activities:
a. visiting, transporting, praying for and
feeding the sick
b. free loan societies lending money,
health care articles, used furniture, circumcision equipment, wedding & sheva bracha
(wedding week) needs
c. hospitality for shabos, yom tov and
d. matchmaking for singles
e. jobs (networking with prospective
employers; resume assistance)
f. outreach to the unreligious (shabos and
yom tov invitations, "adopt a family," tutoring)
g. tending to the dead (guarding the body
till the funeral, tahara [purification procedure for the body], arranging a kosher funeral
and the minyan in the homes of mourners)
h. crime patrols on neighborhood streets
i. child care (tutoring, shabos groups)
j. Torah classes, particularly for women
k. block coordinators.
These creative, dedicated and generous
people do a lot of good. Do you wonder whether their spouses admire and love them for
their mitzvos, projects and contributions? Do you wonder whether the children grow up
better, receiving that good influence? Do you wonder whether constant practice of kindness
and mercy to the community builds kindness and mercy towards one's spouse and children?
Getting out of oneself for the practical
and meaningful good of others is one of the healthiest and most effective ways to take
your thoughts away from your problems (in cases where there aren't deep underlying
psychological problems or where you don't distract yourself from other compelling
To the extent that circumstances allow, do
your communal work as modestly or secretively as possible. Your goal is contribution to
Jews and service of G-d, not honor and glory. This is especially true of kindnesses of a
charity nature wherein the recipients may feel embarrassment. As the verse quoted above
says, "Walk modestly with your G-d [Mica 6:8]."
MITZVA PROJECTS THAT
FAMILIES CAN UNDERTAKE
A mother of seven was diagnosed with a
dangerous illness. For almost a year, she was in the hospital most of the time. Neighbors
took her children in. Four families each took in one of the children. I know one Chasidic
family, let's call them the Schwartzes, which alone took in three of the children and
treated them like family. Before the mother became ill, the Schwartz family did not even
know the family whose mother was ill! Their only "relationship" was that they
were in the neighborhood a couple of blocks away and they heard of the need.
The Schwartzes referred to the 11, 10 and 8
year old children as "our cousins," to make them all feel comfortable and
welcome. The visiting children were well behaved and were treated no less lovingly than
the Schwartz's own children.
Another neighbor single-handedly raised
$40,000 for this ill woman's enormous medical expenses. The sick woman's husband had to be
with her almost continually. The husband's boss at work, also a pious chassid, kept the
husband on full pay the whole time, even though he worked a few token hours a week and he
was caring for his wife almost full-time.
The sick woman's father had a frail heart.
After about a half year, the woman's condition had her in serious and visibly evident
physical deterioration. Upon seeing his daughter one time, he was so aggrieved that he had
a massive heart attack and died. As if the family didn't have enough "tzoris
(trouble)," they now were sitting shiva (seven days of mourning) for the grandfather.
Neighbors brought platters of food for the mourning family "like from a
caterer," as one person put it.
The Schwartzes went out of their way to
make the visiting children happy and to shield them from sorrow (their's mother's
frightening critical condition and the loss of their grandfather gave them enough
emotional burden). When the 10 year old boy wanted a plum, Mrs. Schwartz went to the fruit
store with the boy and bought him a plum. When he wanted a bike, Mr. Schwartz took him to
the store and bought him a bike. When the children wanted to go to the park, the husband
drove them to a nearby park and a teenage Schwartz daughter supervised the playing. The
Schwartz children made clear and effective effort to be pleasant, cheerful and friendly to
the visiting children.
Because the Schwartzes were so kind and
generous to the visiting children, they and the other children in this family wanted to
visit the Schwartzes regularly. Even on occasions when the mother was a bit stronger, any
possible grouping of three children from this family were invited to the Schwartzes for a
shabos. When the mother needed to go away for a rest, three of the children stayed for a
few weeks with the Schwartzes.
The Schwartzes are chasidic. The parents of
the visiting children are not, so the pronunciation of the children's names was according
to the non-chasidic custom they grew up with. As part of the Schwartz's overall demeanor
of friendliness and respect, they pronounced the names of the children the way the
children were used to. The Schwartzes paid attention to every possible detail to make
their every chesed complete.
The children's grandmother, the widow of
the man who passed away, was distraught at the loss of her husband. She was in despair and
depression day after day. She stayed alone in her home and cried. Mrs. Schwartz started
phoning her regularly, often three and four times a day, and, when the older woman was
emotionally ready for it, Mrs. Schwartz started inviting her over to the house. She went
around with Mrs. Schwartz on her daily rounds (shopping, etc.) during the week and she
stayed over with the Schwartzes on shabosses. Mrs. Schwartz treated the older lady like a
long-time family friend, keeping her company and keeping her occupied and happy. If the
grandmother was ever reluctant about leaving her home, Mrs. Schwartz would say something
like, "I need your opinion about what to buy," to help get her out and occupied.
The grandmother had one child who was as
yet unmarried, a son who lived with her. When he was home, she had his company. During the
day, the son worked, and in the evening the son went to shul for mincha and maariv
(evening services). Mrs. Schwartz strove to keep company with the grandmother during
daytime hours, but had to give her evenings to her husband and children. Another neighbor,
a woman with eight children, made a point to take the grandmother for a walk or keep her
company in the evenings when the grandmother's son was at the synagogue. This way, either
the son, Mrs. Schwartz or the other neighbor always kept the distraught and brokenhearted
Aside from this, Mrs. Schwartz had a
neighbor whose little boy had been diagnosed with cancer. When he was hospitalized, she
ran to the hospital regularly. When he was home, she treated him like a "ben bayis
(member of the household)." He could come over and visit all he wanted. She made him
so comfortable and happy that he came two or three times most days. She gave him toys,
rented a video player so he could watch tapes of their family simchas, made for him what
he wanted to eat and she encouraged her little boy to play with him like a brother. For
four years, she gave enormous time and energy to this little fellow. He, baruch Hashem,
seems to be recovering and he remains a welcome part of the Schwartz family.
The Schwartzes are people who feel sad when
they don't have guests on Shabos or Yom Tov. On weeks when it looks like the table will be
bare of Shabos or Yom Tov guests, Mrs. Schwartz phones singles to actively invite them to
come. Her calls are always cheerful, she speaks as if the guest is doing her family the
favor by coming, she tells each that it would be a pleasure to have them, and she
literally screams with enthusiastic joy when the person agrees to come ("yay!"
"terrific!" "great - we're looking forward!"). When Mrs. Schwartz
finds out that a guest likes a certain food, without taking away from the usual foods that
her family likes, she will also cook or buy the item that the guest likes, to make the
guest happy. The family is Yiddish-speaking, but if ever one of their guests is
English-speaking, the entire family switches to all-English, out of respect and
consideration for the guest. She tells each guest that they each add so much to the meal
and that she appreciates their coming. She tells them to please come again and she tells
them with clear and heartfelt sincerity, "Don't just say you're coming again. Please
do. Really." Mr. Schwartz tells people that it is a privilege to have the person for
a guest. Members of the family, including the teenage children, tell the guest that they
enjoyed the company. They manage to find something to give the visiter a sincere
compliment about. I remember Mrs. Schwartz once saying that a young woman who came lit the
Yom Tov candles "eidl" (with beautiful devotion to the mitzva). I remember a
teenage daughter telling a guest that she got a lot from his d'var Torah.
When the lady who was ill passed away, one
of the seven children was so heartbroken and pained, he couldn't go back into his house.
The Schwartzes bought a bunk bed, moved the boy in with their similar-age son, and has
been living in the Schwartz home as if he were a member of the family for the several
years since. The boy's father and several of the other children are at the Schwartz's
table for at least one of the meals almost every shabos and yom tov.
All of the Schwartzes did every last thing
with a smile, with enthusiasm and with love. I know the "Schwartzes" and I saw
all this myself.
Feivel was single and living alone. At one
time he had a good job, but he came upon very hard times. He lost his job and was out of
work for a lengthy period. Nothing worked out. He had been friendly for several years with
his neighbor, Rabbi Feinberg, who found out that Feivel had come upon very hard times.
Feivel was not the type of fellow who liked to be a taker or a shnorrer (mooch). So the
Feinberg family hit upon a strategy to help Feivel in a way that would be nice, thoughtful
"Feivel, my wife shops without making
very precise measure of what the house needs. More often than not, we have far too much.
You would be doing US a big chesed if you would come over to us for dinner. We always have
so much. It's a shame to waste. The children love your company." One day led to
another. Every time, members of the family told Feivel that he is doing them a favor and
they loved having him. "There's so much, we can't eat it all." They invited him
for supper several days a week on a steady scheduled basis. If on any occasion he couldn't
come, he had to call the Feinbergs. If he wouldn't call, Feivel's visit was normal and
expected several evenings a week. They often sent him home with leftovers, groceries and
bread. They always told him, with utmost sincerity, "It would go to waste anyway.
You're doing us a big chesed. Please take it as a favor to us." Feivel always felt
comfortable and welcome, and the entire Feinberg family was always uniformly kind,
cheerful and considerate.
Nachman and his wife were hospitable and
frequently had guests. His entire family was gracious, warm and sweet in the treatment of
their guests. They always sought to make their guests feel happy, important and close to
the family. He would tell guests that they are such good friends, they add so much to his
meal, they should come again, and the like. But Nachman was not content to only have
guests himself or to limit his kindness to his own capabilities. He understood King
Solomon's words (Proverbs 21:21), "Chase charity and kindness."
Many of Nachman's guests were single. When
a new guest came to his home, Nachman got to know the person somewhat and he got a sense
of the person as an individual. At Nachman's shul, there was a large "oilam
(congregation)." Nachman would tell fellow mispallellim (congregants) to actively
phone single guests and invite them for shabos. He would choose people who he felt the
single would get along nicely with. He would give them the single person's name and phone
number. They would introduce themselves, say they were referred by Nachman and invite the
single for a shabos meal. This way, lonely single people would start receiving a string of
phone calls from Nachman's friends and neighbors and develop a network of families in the
area to go to for shabos and to get to know. Kindness isn't enough until you chase it.
WHEN KINDNESS TO OTHERS
IS IN CONFLICT WITH YOUR SPOUSE, FAMILY OR NEIGHBORS
Keep in mind, that if you increase
activity, population or traffic in your home or apartment, your activities might impose on
others, make noise or otherwise disturb or inconvenience neighbors. Will people park in
their driveway without permission? Will people trespass or cause damage to a neighbor's
lawn? Will added footsteps make noise or vibration that will go through your floor and
annoy the people in the apartment below yours, or keep your own children from sleeping or
from doing their homework? If neighbors are non-Jews, will any activity, as seen or
understood by the non-Jews, be a chillul Hashem? Be sensitive to the impact your
activities have on all other people who stand to be affected by them. As Pirkei Avos
instructs, measure the loss against the gain so that your gain does not disappear due to
Always remember that there is no mitzva
that comes through a sin. The act remains a sin [Suka 30b]. Make sure there is never any
sin-aspect in any of your holy enterprises, so that it is pure mitzva and service of G-d.
If you ever have questions, bring them to a rov for Torah instruction.
When you're involved in communal giving and
kindness, you see marital trivialities for what they are. You don't have time for
something that's truly unimportant - and you don't wish to allocate finite energies to
nonsense, when there is so much good work to be done. You leave your marriage-related and
family-related energies for what really matters. As Pirkei Avos (chapter two) teaches,
"Torah together with productive activity keeps away sin." You practice being
good to everybody, which should mean that you can stack up thousands or millions of
mitzvos over a lifetime; and which should also mean that you learn, more and more all the
time, how to be good to your spouse and family. And, doing good in ways that address real
needs and feelings, is one of the most meaningful and fulfilling things that you can do
with your life.
However, the first priority must always be
your family. One should only extend out to the community, to projects outside of the home,
when all of the needs of and all of the responsibilities to the home and its members are
amply taken care of.
For example, you're a zealous husband and
your wife is basically good-natured. You know it's a huge mitzva to have guests for shabos
or guests who are traveling through your area. You would like guests every shabos.
However, this is achieved through your wife's hard work, which she may often gladly agree
to. Each and every shabos, before you bring in a flood of guests, you must take into
account her overall work load, the condition she is in, her feelings. Does junior have a
communicable disease? Maybe this week has to be a no-go. It's no mitzva to drown your wife
or to give your guest diphtheria.
I know one couple that used to be
exceptionally hospitable. A stressful change in their lives came about. Thereafter, having
guests was straining, if not harming, their marriage. They were instructed by their rav to
stop having guests. Their first "kindness priorities" were to their shalom bayis
(marital peace, to each other) and their children. This had to continue for a good few
years, until the situation cleared up.
I know a family that was very liberal about
bringing guests. They had many every guests shabos and, often, people stayed for days or
months when they needed a place. One time, a guest proved to be a bad influence on the
children. The father decided that he had to protect the spiritual well-being of his family
and he did more screening before he would bring in guests who he doesn't know. If he
suspected the integrity or stability of the person, he learned to say "no," for
the sake of his family. Incidentally, this family still has 5, 10 and 20 guests on a
shabos or yom tov, still is willing to mekarev or mechazek (have guests who are not
strongly observant - as long as they are "normal") and still occasionally has
people staying over when they need a place to stay for a few days. The commitment to
chesed is undiminished - but the list of recipients has been extended...to include his own
One more example. You know that it is a big
mitzva to learn Torah. It is a sin to waste the precious and limited time of earthly life
on secular trivialities. You only have one life for the accumulation of an
eternity's-worth of Torah and mitzvos. Your wife needs to talk to you or she needs your
help. Don't refuse. Giving concern and time to your wife when she needs you IS HOLINESS.
Don't neglect or avoid her. You may never hurt her - even if passively! You must pursue
peace with her - even if you don't see the need for the new chotchka (knick-knack or house
decoration) for the house that she is crying for! It is a mitzva to help any Jew with a
need or burden which (s)he can't handle alone. How much moreso for your "nearest 'n
A menahel (spiritual director) of a Torah
education institution in Brooklyn said of such people who quietly do substantive, generous
and amazing mitzvos, "You never know who a Jew really is." We have some real
gems out there. The Bible says it very nicely [as if speaking to G-d], "Who is like
Your people Israel, a nation unique on earth? (1 Chronicles 17:21)."
I'll sum this section up with another
statement from the Bible, which is in the habit of saying things very nicely. "The
world will be built by active lovingkindness (Psalms 89:3)."
ONCE YOU'VE BUILT THIS
LEVEL, MOVE ON TO THE NEXT
When your marriage is basically solid and
healthy, examine how you can act on the fact that an important and often overlooked means
of solidifying a marriage is taking on constructive community projects. By admiring your
partner's worthy efforts or by sharing in worthy joint efforts together, you deepen love
for each other, and fulfillment in your marriage, by creating a larger base of common
goals and/or accomplishments. As you succeed at any given level, you can graduate to a
next level. You create a Torah and kindness atmosphere for your home and family. If
conducted warmly and intelligently, this can be instilled into children and grandchildren
and probably go on for generations.
This is applicable only if your marriage is
basically strong and stable, and your overall family life is essentially functional and
healthy. Your home is your first priority, but, when it is solid and peaceful, the Torah
says to be unselfish and to be involved in the needs of the Jewish community.
You can literally take part in building and
strengthening your community. You progressively grow out of yourself when you are
seriously and dedicatedly involved in other people and in meritorious outside causes. This
is enormously healthy and valuable for yourself and for your marriage (if your personality
is basically healthy and sound, in the first place). You gain enormous personal
satisfaction and self-esteem when you see a yeshiva, mikva, shul, hatzala (emergency
medical aid) facility, free-loan fund or "good cause society" go up before your
eyes - knowing that you and/or your spouse were instrumental in its coming into existence
and/or being funded. This has "ripple effect" that spills over on your marriage:
elevating, stabilizing and deepening it.
As much as this is true for activities
centered outside of your home, this is even more the case for activities in which your
home itself is used and is intrinsic to the purpose, such as sponsoring Torah lectures,
having shabos or holiday guests eat and sleep over, making gatherings for singles (to find
a mate, or for you to get to know the singles so that you can make reasonable matches) or
gatherings for fund-raising on behalf of charitable institutions and causes, kindnesses
for the poor or disabled, bringing unreligious Jews closer to Torah, or addressing any
These are all undertakings of extreme
responsibility, whether in your home or outside in the community. Once you start, you must
remain consistent, unchanging and reliable for the causes, activities, contributions,
commitments and achievements involved. It will be good practice for steadfast, persevering
faithfulness to the responsibilities to your marriage!
Your marriage must be sufficiently strong
to withstand the added pressures and demands that projects bring. Without the marriage
being in good order to start with, these projects, as noble as they may be, can damage or
even end a shaky marriage (consult your orthodox rabbi for individual instruction). You'll
just find more excuses to criticize, abuse and condemn your spouse. They'll just be
"holier excuses." You can bring a marriage from "ground level" to
"six feet under."
If there are problems in the marriage, work
on them in detail and with diligence. YOUR MARRIAGE IS THE FIRST AND FOREMOST PRIORITY.
This is your "project." This is the responsibility to which you must be
unchangingly faithful - establishing resolution, stability, harmony, good-will, mutual
faith and compatibility.
If you have a HEALTHY BASE to start with in
your marriage, and you BOTH prioritize unchanging faithfulness to your spouse and children
BEFORE you start any other out-of-family responsibilities to which you will also have to
be unchangingly faithful, then you have here a means to take your marriage from the
"ground floor" up to the "stratosphere"...and do a lot of good for the
world (in your home and out in the community) in the process.
Decide how to measure how much of a load
you can effectively take on. Perhaps ask your rabbi. Perhaps formulate increments that you
can take on, gradually taking a level on, "absorbing" that level, and
progressively and gradually adding levels, if one big project is too much to start with.
If you can't sponsor a lecture every week,
start once a month. If you can't build a new mikvah first, start by sponsoring a group
that gets together regularly with a rabbi for studying and reinforcing Jewish Family
Purity (marital) laws (with separate men & women groups).
You can organize an ongoing support group
for people who want to work, for example, on:
* loshon hora (eliminating prohibited
derogatory speech against other people),
* midos (character refinement) or
* shalom bayis (marriage success).
The group can meet regularly in your home
or the location can rotate among the homes of several participants.
If you can't raise money for a yeshiva,
collect used furniture from donors who are throwing things out, so that you can give them
to impoverished or immigrant newlyweds. If you can't build a shul, help keep one clean or
start a free-loan society for its community. Or, if there is no outlet for service in the
shul, recruit a squad of volunteers to care for your community's sick and elderly. I have
"Don't be stifled, be creative!"