Recognizing the Greatness of a Small Act of Kindness

I’m not exactly sure why I was so struck by this act.

There are many times when we play the equivalent of musical chairs at Mincha. We’re all listening to the Chazzan repeat the Shmoneh Esrai and then it’s time to put our heads down for Tachanun, the next part of the prayer service. And often we find there are more men then chairs and somebody is left without a chair and has to improvise by putting his head on his arm standing up or waiting for a chair.

At the Yeshiva, where I usually daven Mincha, the guys will often give up their chair. But today it seemed different. The young man didn’t know me and the chair was right next to him and a short distance from me. But when it was time to say Tachanun he motioned for me to take the chair. I signaled that he should go first and I would use it afterwords and that’s what we did.

After davening I followed him out of shul and introduced myself and asked him his name. I told him his small gesture was an Act of Geulah, an Act of Redemption. When I related the story to my son, he said I shouldn’t have said anything. But the young man seemed to appreciate my appreciation and we went our separate ways.

From one point of view, what’s the big deal. I’m sure the majority of readers of Beyond BT would have done and probably have done this or something similar. And people have certainly done many small acts of kindness for me which I didn’t acknowledge in this way. But for some reason this act created a connection, and perhaps it wasn’t so much the act, but the recognition of it. I was able to put aside my own preoccupations and see the greatness of this fellow Jew doing the right thing and in the process create a bond between us.

There are three laws of Ahavas Yisroel
1) Speak well of your fellow Jew
2) Respect your fellow Jew
3) Care about their material and physical needs

The reason I’m relating this small story is because it showed me the power of Ahavas Yisroel and how it is the key to redemption. We have so many opportunities every day to fulfill this mitzvah and in the process become greater, not just because we did the mitzvah, but because we have created a bond and helped to add another brick to the building of a greater Klal Yisroel.

10 comments on “Recognizing the Greatness of a Small Act of Kindness

  1. Michael Balinsky:

    Interesting question, but I think that the “act of chesed” was the *offer* itself — the performance of which was not, of course, denied. If I had acquiesced and taken her seat, that would have merely been the ‘consequence’ of her act, but nevertheless separate and apart from it. Does that make sense?

  2. Maybe not worth contacting the RY, but I’ve been know to contact parents of kids I’ve met at at the park or see during davening at my childrens’ school, to let the parents know:
    a) about exceptional middos/manner
    b) that someone does notice

    I’ve yet to have been told by a parent that they didn’t appreicate the phone call.

  3. In response to Shua Cohen, and I am asking here and invite responses: In not taking the seat, are you denying the young woman the act of Hesed she wished to perform? or was it enough that she offered it and you were clearly touched and refused gracefully?

  4. Thanks Neil. I’m not sure a small act warrants contacting the parents and Rosh Yeshiva, but I’ll think about whether it makes sense.

  5. Three years ago I had the zchus to be in Eretz Yisrael at Chanukah time. When I boarded a very crowded bus from Petah Tikva to Yerushalayim, an obviously chiloni young woman stood up to offer me her seat. I was mortified, nay offended, and nearly protested aloud: “Hey, I’m not even sixty yet…don’t do this to me!”(being in denial, I guess, of my gray hair and beard). Instead, I politely shook my head “no thank you” and stood the whole way back. My only consolation: how proud I was of this young woman for her act of chesed to an…uh…’older’ (and obviously) dati Jew.

    One could also respond: “hey, what’s the big deal?” Maybe not much. But unbeknownst to her, this sweet, albeit assimilated young Bas Yisrael, by her small act of kindness, instantly instilled in me a warm and positive feeling that there is hope for us yet across the chiloni/dati divide.

  6. Thanks Tzirel. I agree that little things count and G-d is in the details.

    However the main point I was trying to get across is that when we make efforts to notice and praise the good actions (and middos) of others, we actually create the bonds of Ahavas Yisroel. A necessary part of this process is verbalizing the praise, which can be done without mentioning the praised person’s name.

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