Updated: Jun 15, 2020
I was preparing some pushkas (charity boxes) one day to deliver in our community. Walking outside to the car, I saw a new neighbor whom I'd never met before. I dashed across the street to say hello and introduce myself.
We got to talking, and I quickly realized that I needed to do some serious listening.
*John, the father of a six-year-old girl, recently lost his wife.
I listened silently to his heartbreaking story.
Was there anything I could do for my new found friend? Anything I can say that would bring him comfort? I asked him to call me if ever he felt I could be of help. I wanted to stay in touch and to be there for him.
As I was about to leave, I noticed the Pushka still in my hand, when suddenly an old conversation popped up in my mind.
I was once sitting in a restaurant in Chicago with some family members. In conversation with my aunt, I heard my father mention that in spiritual matters it's always good to look at people who are greater and yearn for more, but in material things, we look with compassion on those who have less and thank G-d for what we have. It’s a renowned Chabad rumination.
Although Mark is not Jewish, I felt compelled to share my thoughts with him. I showed him the Pushka and told him that we make a habit of dropping a coin or two in it every day. It’s a nice custom and he’s welcome to try it.
I told him that it's not about how much we give but rather how often we give, because it trains us to become sensitive to the needs of others.
Even in the worst of times, I said, we keep our dignity by remembering that we can still be givers. There’s always someone who is more in need than me. Every single person is exactly where they need to be, right now, so they can make someone else’s life bright. As long as you're on this earth, you have a task and purpose to fulfill that transcends even yourself.
I said, there might even be someone waiting to see a message of HOPE, from John, right now.
I offered him the Pushka as a living reminder of how indispensable he is even when he feels so broken. Even a nickel a day, I told him, and he'll find himself thinking more about the needs of others, and less about his own heartbreaking pain.
The very next morning I received this email (our email address is on the Pushka).
"Hello this is John. I wanted to thank you for our talk yesterday. Since Nancy's passing, my relationship with life has been strained..... I have long felt the need to endure, partly to honor the beauty and wonders around us, and of course, my daughter is a singular treasure. But you reminded me that part of living is held in the act of giving, and I really needed to hear that message yesterday. Thank you for being so genuine."
A week later, I received an email from Mark's house of worship inviting me to speak for their community wherever we would be able to arrange it. Another opportunity to share the Torah’s meaningful wisdom and light.
*Names changed for privacy.