I was just reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ thoughts on the weekly Torah portion, where he suggests that based on the wisdom of Abraham, the number one attribute when looking for a significant other is civility (known in Hebrew as Chesed). I interpret this as meaning an act of service.
To me, service is being kind, reaching out our hand, lending an ear, or performing a charitable act without the expectation of anything in return.
Rabbi Sacks shares the story of Stephen Carter, a black professor who spoke of an act of civility that changed the course of his life. As a child, Stephen moved into an entirely white neighborhood of Washington DC and assumed when he arrived that the white neighbors would be mean, nasty, and unaccepting to him. Instead, a woman who was his neighbor named Sara Kestenbaum greeted him with a smile, welcomed him and his family to the neighborhood, and brought them snacks. This act of service changed the course of this man’s life and of so many others by extension. I’m positive if you asked Sara if she did anything special, she would say no, she was just being of service.
I’m reminded of a story my brother-in-law shared with me about the former editor-in-chief of the Detroit Free Press. When his mother immigrated to the United States, she was a housekeeper for a Jewish family. This family lived in a large home in the center of the Jewish community, and the man of the house was the president of the local synagogue. The family went away the week before Christmas and planned to return on Christmas day, and the editor’s mother decided to show her gratitude to the family and went out and bought a huge tree and decorated the outside of the house.
When the family came back, we can only imagine how horrified they were to see the Christmas decorations, and how fearful they were of what their neighbors would say. Yet, instead of yell at or rebuke the housekeeper, the owner of the house sat her down and gave her a $100 bonus (a huge sum in the 1950s), thanked her profusely for the beautiful gift, and then kindly explained that his religion didn’t observe Christmas and that together they could take down the tree and decorations. Because of this act of kindness, her son (who grew up to be the editor-in-chief of the Detroit Free Press) became a great friend of the Jewish people.
Simple acts of kindness are invaluable. When someone asks how I am doing and actually means it, and they take the time to hear my response, it truly means the world to me.
What simple acts of kindness move you? Additionally, what does service–or civility– mean to you?
This week, let’s be mindful of how our actions affect others. Let’s be kind, loving, caring, and welcoming to all– you not only can change a life, you can change the course of nature, itself.
Accountability, Community, Unconditional Love
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