Run to do good with a snow shovel

“Run to do good with a snow shovel.” As of this noon, I am moved to add this action to the list of obligatory ways to do good under Jewish law (halachah).

Early this morning in Baltimore we were having a white-out moment. No matter we were less than twenty-four hours into spring by the Gregorian calendar. Wet snow was falling heavily, already bending the bamboo grove in our backyard down to the ground.

After a short night’s sleep, an early-morning on-line meeting, and a late breakfast, I napped. When I woke, a blinding whiteness shone through the window. The snow had stopped. I went to the front door prepared to bundle up and spend an hour clearing the front steps and walk, to see that an Angel-with-a-Shovel had already been by. Two angels, it turned out – Lisa, my next-door neighbor, and Ashley, her neighbor on the other side. Ashley and I have waved hello to one another but never really “met.”

As recipients of an unending flow of goodness from the One Source, Judaism teaches us, so we are bound to carry out acts of lovingkindness (gemilut chassadim), regardless of whether the recipient appears to be “needy” or not, “deserving” or not. Especially acts of lovingkindness extended towards the dead, who cannot reward us.

Thus we are taught to offer unstintingly

to the wealthy and the poor,

to the wise and the foolish,

to the dead and the living.

 

We are taught to offer “all our everything.”

To offer of ourselves, our effort, our resources.

To offer hospitality.

To welcome in and provide for the stranger, and guide her on her way.

To visit the sick.

To celebrate with the couple at their wedding.

To guard and prepare the body of the dead.

To accompany and bury the dead.

To comfort the mourner.

To seek and pursue peace.

To bring people into the presence of the Shechinah, the Indwelling presence of God.

To learn Torah, teach Torah.

No legal (halachic) limit is set on what we can offer: no moment when we can cease from giving and say that we have fulfilled our duty.

Then there is the “running” aspect. It’s not just that we are not to stop and weigh the pros and cons.

The “running” is an actual eagerness to be of service, in the same spirit that G-d “runs” to bestow everything on us. Our “running” is in the image of G-d. All the more-so when we treat the “stranger” as friend and neighbor, in spite of the fact that – like Ashley and me – we may never have met.

As we offer in this way, we give up “reward” in the mundane sense, and as we give without expectation, so we do also receive. nourishment.

More than that, we become partners with G-d in completing creation. With eagerness and as small and mighty a tool as a snow shovel.

Lisa and Ashley: thank you!

It’s not about anything but love

It’s curious how I’ve been drawn back repeatedly to an area in the Catskills that I have visited regularly for close to forty years. Clearly it has been home to me in some way I have not been able to name.

There is a “there” there, but what is its nature?

Spiritual initiations and awakening, weeks of study and following ashram discipline, Jewish Renewal retreats, gatherings with healing colleagues, meditation and prayer and practice – and family events. For the past eight years the family events have included pilgrimages to Stagedoor Manor, a camp for serious theatre geeks from which my grandson will “graduate” in a few weeks, then head off to college.

But what is it really that has drawn me back over and over again?

As I drove south through Sullivan County a few days ago, returning to Baltimore after a camp performance week-end, I once again considered this question. When my daughter and I arrived on Friday afternoon, we had been greeted with a double rainbow. The weather had been sunny and pleasant with a few heavy downpours. As we left were still under the influence of Saturday evening’s gloriously silver full moon. Nature was certainly at its kindest this trip.

And we had been inspired by six shows from Friday through Saturday evening, full of gifted and spirited acting and song, and enjoyed the particular dance that happens every summer as various family members and friends disperse go to different shows and come back together to exchange “wows!”

….and then I heard these words spoken in the voice of one of my teachers:

It’s about love.

It’s always been about love.

It’s not about anything but love.

When I thought it was about wisdom, it was about love.

When I thought it was about skill, it was about love.

When I thought it was about duty, it was about love.

And what is the nature of that love?

The nature of that love is action, not sentiment.

In Hebrew, the word for love is Ahava, which has a numerical value of thirteen. The word for One is Echad, which also has a numerical value of thirteen. Coupled, in relationship, their value is 26, the numerical value of the Unpronounceable Name of God.

And so it goes: we think that we travel, we think we gather and disperse, we think we study, we think we perform on stage or off.

While what we really do is love.

Receive and give over and over again.

Express the One – endlessly and concretely. Humanly, that is to say imperfectly.

Sing the Unpronounceable with our imperfect human actions.