Benefit the Public Benefit Yourself

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his                                                                    neshama. 
By Elisheva Maline

כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה - Every person in the Jewish nation is responsible for one another. 

This is because all Jews are interconnected, all a part of one collective soul. If my foot hurts, is not the rest of my body affected? On an esoteric level, this means that we are held accountable for every Jew as well as one another's actions. On a concrete note, this means that my actions carry weight. Growing up in a religious environment, I was taught that when a frum (religious) Jew on the east coast in America refrains from desecrating Shabbos, a Jew in France gets the courage to start wearing a kipah i.e. he draws inspiration from the spiritual reservoir that the first person's actions created. 

Although this kind of idea might invite dysfunction among the tribes (when the Jewish nation was originally formed, they were made up of twelve original family members a.k.a. twelve tribes) as people succumb to the temptation of poking their noses into places where they don't belong, it also forms the groundwork for an authentic sense of closeness between brothers from different mothers.

But any burst of warmth you might feel toward a perfect stranger is only as strong as your connection to your Jewish identity. The greater your ties to your heritage, the more connected you'll feel toward your fellow Jews. As an American whose visited and schmoozed (chatted) with foreigners in Austria, the U.K. and Italy as well as people from other places, I personally felt like I was running into long lost relatives. I've also found that, across the board, other people share the same sentiment.

The same parallel applies to one's getting involved with the tzibur (the needs of the public). You'll find that every Jewish community's level of observance also goes hand in hand with the intensity of its involvement in public charities. After all, it is a modus operendi of Judaism's to be מזכה הרבים - benefiting the public. The more connected one is with G-d's Torah and mitzvot (commandments), the more dedicated he'll feel to helping out his fellow Jew. Flip open a Jewish directory to the section marked ג for גמחים -  גמילת חסדים (gimmel for Acts of Loving Kindness) and you'll see what I mean. There are pages of listings of non profits offering everything from school supplies and diapers bags to interest free college and mortgage loans. This is because Jews like to open gemachim, charity organizations or non profits, whenever they sense a pressing need. To give a point of reference, some Jewish non profits are similar in style to Good Will or The Salvation Army; The bigger difference is that gemachim aren't big non profit fanchises; they're opened and run by anyone and everyone who takes an interest. As such, gemachim offer a broader selection of options. Their services vary from interst free loans to midnight pacifiers for panicked mothers. Depending on the neighborhood,, they also offer things like free weekend apartments for young couples or families, meals for mothers on maternity leave, wedding gowns, medications that insurance doesn't cover, freezers for holidays etc. etc. Wherever a Jew senses a lack, s/he tries to fill it. 

Each of us was given a personal mission in this world and if we take time to ponder it, we can have clarity as to what it is each of us was put here to do. One of the ways in which we achieve our mission statements is through emulating G-d. G-d has thirteen divine attributes via which He governs the world and it is also through these that we can observe as well as relate to Him. One of these divine characteristics is kindness. And that's why one of Judaism's defining charactistics is kindness; we've got it in spades. 

If you have the eyes to see, you will spot acts of loving kindness all over the place.

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