“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!