On July 27th, 2016, I was preparing some pushkas (charity boxes) to deliver in our community. As I waited outside, I saw the shul’s neighbor whom I’d never met before. I dashed across the street to say hello and introduce myself. We got to talking, and I quickly realized that I needed to do some serious listening.
Mark,* the father of a six-year-old girl, recently lost his wife. I listened silently to his heartbreaking story. Was there anything I could do for my newfound friend? Anything I can say that would bring him comfort? I asked him to call me if ever he felt I could be of help. I wanted to stay in touch.
As I was about to leave, I noticed the pushka still in my hand. I was reminded of the time I had heard my father telling us that in spiritual matters it’s always good to look at people who are greater and yearn for more, but in material things, we look to those who have less, and thus thank G-d for what we have. It’s from the teachings of Chabad.
Although Mark is not Jewish, I felt compelled to share my thoughts with him. I showed him the pushka and told him that we make a habit of dropping a coin or two in every day. I told him that it’s not about how much we give as it is about how often we give, because it trains us to become sensitive to the needs of others. Even in the worst of times, I said, we keep our dignity in that we can still be givers. As long as you’re on this earth, you have a task and purpose to fulfill that transcends even yourself. Notwithstanding the heartache he was suffering, I told him, there is yet someone out there who needs him.
I offered him the pushka as a living reminder of how indispensable he is even when he feels so broken. Even a nickel a day, I told him, and he’ll find himself thinking more about the needs of others, less about his own terrible pain.
The very next morning I received this email (our email address is on the pushka).
“Hello, this is Mark. I wanted to thank you for our talk yesterday. Since Jennifer’s passing, my relationship with life has been strained. . . . I have long felt the need to endure, partly to honor the beauty and wonders around us, and of course, my daughter is a singular treasure. But you reminded me that part of living is held in the act of giving, and I really needed to hear that message yesterday. Thank you for being so genuine.”
Last week, I received an email from Mark’s church inviting me to speak for them. Another opportunity to share the wisdom of Chabad.
*At the request of the writer, names have been changed.