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“The Spirit of Kindness,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

December 15, 2023 | 3 Tevet 5784

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat.

There are some moments when something you read or hear pierces your heart. It feels important because it is. But why? This happened to me recently when I read one of the entries in the “Metropolitan Diary” in the New York Times on December 10, 2023 entitled, “Riding Downtown” submitted by a person named Isabel Walcott Draves.

It speaks of a profound moment of kindness.

Maybe this is the salve we need right now to be carried on the 2 train on its way to Brooklyn where something very human and humane unfolded.

It is a reminder that amidst the roiling and world tossing events — unexpectedly — we feel called to step up, lean in, and reach out.

You will see how the acts of kindness were left unfinished but carried on by another soul as if the baton of kindness could be passed to another person as someone else “got it” and claimed the role of kindness.

No one laid out a plan or an intention. Their actions spoke the truth of kindness. Their presence and gentle soothing words created a plan as if it had been created when the world came into being. (Maybe it did…)

In the Torah portion this week, Joseph is summoned out of prison to interpret Pharoah’s dreams. They are the ones that will portend the years of plenty to be followed by the years of famine. As Joseph described what would happen, Pharoah realized there was a sacred component to the moment when he chose Joseph to lead the effort. He said:

And Pharaoh said to his courtiers, וַיֹּ֥אמֶר פַּרְעֹ֖ה אֶל־עֲבָדָ֑יו

“Could we find another like him — הֲנִמְצָ֣א כָזֶ֔ה אִ֕ישׁ

a man with the divine spirit?” אֲשֶׁ֛ר ר֥וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֖ים בּֽוֹ

(Genesis 31:48)

It is that moment when Pharoah perceived the divine spirit within Joseph.

This story from the Metropolitan Diary has the divine spirit surging through it. May we continue to discover that spirit in kindness offered and received.

Dear Diary:

I was headed downtown on the 2 train when a college-age girl sitting nearby began to sob.

I moved over to sit on her right side as a woman sitting to her left began to comfort her.

The girl said she was overwhelmed with anxiety and on the way to her therapist. A man sitting across from her offered her an unopened cold soda, which she accepted.

There we were on the train, four of us together, one of us in crisis. The situation seemed so precarious that I skipped my stop to stay by the young woman’s side. Her distress was palpable.

I, the woman on the left, and the man offered her encouraging words in low tones. It seemed to help. She began to breathe normally and calm down.

We reached Wall Street, the last stop in Manhattan. I didn’t have time to go to Brooklyn and get back to my destination in time.

Preparing to get off the train, I asked the young woman if she was going to be OK. As I did, the woman on her left said she needed to get off, too. The man sitting across from us said he felt bad because he also needed to get off.

We all asked the young woman if she was going to be OK. She nodded, but sniffled.

The three of us stood, hesitating as the doors opened. Suddenly, a woman swooped in from somewhere down the car and sat down in the seat I was vacating.

“I got her,” the woman said, smiling.

Shabbat Shalom!

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings.  Share with me what you think. Your email goes directly to me!

This Weekend at Temple Israel:

  • We come together as a community to celebrate Shabbat at 6:00 p.m.  on ZoomFacebook Live, or stream on our websiteWe welcome Scientists in Synagogues speaker, Nora Renthal.
  • Torah Study  gathers onsite or online at 9:00 a.m.
  • Thank Goodness it’s Shabbat gathers at 10:00 a.m. No registration needed.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher