Outside of the box chesed

Last night I went to the Young Israel of Woodmere to hear Rabbi Paysach Krohn speak on the topic , “Extend Your Hand and Touch a Heart: Communal Unity” to commemorate the fifth yahrtzeit of Rebekah Anne Frucht, Refaella chana Rivka bas Moshe Nissan (you can read about her here). To help make the point actionable, " A Kindness A Day" journals were distributed. They include the the name to have in mind for iluy neshama and the site chessedchallenge.com 

I'm writing this not just to spread the word and recount a tiny bit of what Rabbi Krohn said but to also add a new insight about how to think about chesed's application to everyday choices. Something that struck me in particular on exiting the shul was how ironic it is that people coming to such a lecture park in parts of the parking lot that are designated not for parking and in doing so make it that much more difficult for those who have parked in the legal spots to exit without coming in danger of hitting their cars. Wedged in as some of the cars are in that part of the lot, they also are much more likely to hit the cars in front and behind as they make their own exits. This is the opposite of courtesy and antithetical to a mind attuned to chesed.

One thing people have to do is break out of the box of what they believe constitutes credit for chesed. Rabbi Krohn offered some examples of both traditional views of chesed -- like giving money to someone in need -- and things that are not quite as standard -- like setting up places and shetenders specifically for shul guests or reaching out to be learn things like Pirekei Avos with those who are "not yet frum."  He also stressed how what some people consider chesed offers can be much improved on with examples of people coming to be menachem avel and not just making a meaningless, blanket offer of "If there's anything I can do..." but making a specific, concrete promise to take care of all the person's particular needs related to the car, finances, or having the kugel in the oven at a designated time every single Friday.

 Those are all acts of chesed that help people directly by addressing their real needs. But I think it's possible to go further: to come up with a way of thinking about others at all times even without a pressing need made striking by a severe financial loss or worse, the loss of a family member. We can think in those terms when we don't just do what we may normally do because we take a moment to think about how that may affect other people. That applies to parking right outside the door of the shul where the lot is supposed to remain clear because we don't want to take the time to look for a legal spot further away and walk a block or more to the shul. It can even apply to how we leave a parking lot when we grocery shop, taking the time to put the cart away so that it doesn't block another car's access to a parking spot.

I'm going to link this a pshat I would offer as an alternative one -- yet still inspired by -- one that Rabbi Krohn quoted. IIRC he heard it from his son in Far Rockaway who attributed it Baruch Klein. It was on "Ach tov vachesed yirdefuni kol yemeyt chayay." The word ach  is made up of the two letters aleph and chaf. Together, their numerical value amounts to 21. That happens to be the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere  Rabbi Krohn said, that is the ultimate chesed of HK"BH : all around the globe, the atmosphere has just the right amount of oxygen to enable our respiration and not cause it to burn up. That is chesed that surrounds us even without our thinking about it.

Here's what I'm adding. In general, that is how Hashem  operates: he performs billions of acts of chesed for us on a constant basis without our awareness of them. For most cases, we have no idea perils threaten us because we were not only spared the danger but seeing the threat of it. So we don't always realize how much chesed we really receive. As we are supposed to emulate Hashem  in these ways, we can think about doing chesed even in ways that don't get noticed by the recipient. That applies, of course, to the type o f tzedaka in which the receiver doesn't know the identity of the benefactor. But we can take that even further and consider our daily actions' impact on others.

Instead of thinking, "I'll just park here to be closer," we should think, "I'll go out of my way to park in a way that doesn't inconvenience anyone else because that's a form of chesed, too."

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David Eisenman said…
Re parking and chesed: maybe be a bit more charitable in your outlook. Parking is tough around the young israel of woodmere--so people often do crowd legally parked cars. I don't mind being squeezed this way, as long as I can maneuver out--I view my not not minding this minor inconvenience as a chessed, which allows someone else to avoid having to park much further from the shul
Ariella Brown said…
Hello, David,
I'm not objecting to the practice for my own convenience. I often am at the shul for shiurim and always park on the street and so avoid the problem of being blocked in my exit by drivers who feel they are above the law of parking regulations. If you feel your can maneuver, I'm happy for you, but what about the drivers who can't et out without being forced to wait on those cars or denting their own or another's. Worse, what if an emergency occurs, and the fire engine and ambulance can't get as close as they should because of the illegally parked cars? (That's the real reason why the law calls to keep that part clear.)
So is it fair that drivers of these cars (who are not handicapped) but don't wish to take the time to look for parking on the street or want to save themselves some steps have the right to put their convenience above everyone else's and flout the law written in the lot? I don't think that's the way chesed works.

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