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Thought for the Day: Chesed On Which The World Can Be Built

My hebrew reading level is not bad.  My spoken hebrew is really, really bad.  I can usually listen to (and understand) a shiur in hebrew if I know the context.  My conversational is so bad that anyone's english is better than my hebrew.  My conversations with m'shulachim are pretty much constrained to "yeih l'cha green card?" (I used to ask about their "kartis yarok"; but that became too pretentious for even me), and "yeish l'cha odef?" (so I can hand them a five and get four change; I figure that if I mess that up, the worst that can happen is I give more tzedaka than I had planned).  With that in mind, I'll spare you the kind of pidgin english you find in Uncle Tom's Cabin and just give the gist of the conversation.

On Monday, a m'shulach approached me asking for a ride to Chodorov (aka Ohr Yissochar, aka a name I won't use).  That shul is less than a block from my house; so no problem!  On Tuesday, I saw he needed a ride again and asked him if he needed to go to Chdorov again.  No, he said, to the Aguda.  "Cool!," I thought, "another shul basically on the way home."  I can be very magnanimous when it doesn't cost me anything.  As we began our journey in the car, he asked if it was possible to stop by Torah v'Chesed to just run on an pick up a check from someone.  I really had think about that... One the one hand: Torah v'Chesed really is on the way, the stop would take 5 minutes/10 minutes tops.  On the other hand, it is very late (ha'neitz ha'chama this time of year is after 7:00, I have an hour commute to work, but I'm already not getting there on time anyway...) and my wife needs the car.

I really can't do it, I decide and relay the message very sorrowfully.  He is very upbeat, says no problem (I think...).  Still, as we are passing Torah v'Chesed I almost turned in.  As we are driving, I hear him say, "Olam cheded yibaneh"/the world is built on kindness (T'hillim 89:3).  He meant it as musing about how fortunate he was to get a ride.  I, however, was sinking into my seat contemplating  a U-turn.  Then, waiting in a long line on Devon (it's 7:30; the heart of rush hour) waiting to get into the left turn lane to turn on to McCormick toward the Agudah and then home, I saw a car making a right onto Devon from McCormick and stop about a half bus length past the intersection.  The driver rolls down his window and calls over the guy from across the street carrying a "I'm cold and hungry" cardboard sign and hands him a bag of (I presume) food.  How do I know it was half a bus length past the intersection?  Because a bus was stuck behind the food giver; blocking traffic on both Devon and McCormick.

The transaction didn't take long, but, I thought, "Who gave him the right to hold up people going to work and even on their way to do chesed of their own?"  Moreover, he could have pulled over and off Devon, gotten out of his car, waited for the signal, then delivered the (I presume) food; but that would have taken him longer.  I realized that as hard as it had been to say "no", I had done the right thing.  I had no right at all to keep the car longer from my wife nor to show up late for work on their time.  I also had an epiphany: olam chesed yibaneh doesn't just mean the world is built on chesed, it also means that chesed has to be done in such a way that is builds the world, not stop the rest of the world.

Epilogue: When I let him off at the Aguda, he gave me a bracha.  Very nice; not unexpected.  Then he looked at my expectantly and said, "Give me a bracha."  Over the top nice; totally unexpected.

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