Last winter, after learning and meditating on the concept of g’milut hasadim (acts of loving kindness), and reading a lot of old rebbe stories where God or an angel is always dressed as a beggar, I decided to make giving tzedakah (charity) to people who ask part of my practice. It’s difficult and challenging every day, because I always made a point of not giving money, but giving food or donating to charity to make panhandling less attractive (and lucrative) and because who knows where the money’s going.
But when I decided to make this a practice, those reasons didn’t really matter anymore. I thought, who cares where the money’s going, that’s not really what this is about- this is about an exchange of coins, yes, but also eye contact, physical contact, humanity in some way. I can hear dissenters saying this is totally selfish, that this isn’t true tzedekah, and really, whatever. Yeah, I am getting something out of it, and that’s okay, maybe it’s more than okay, maybe it’s good.
Today, like almost every day, someone got on my subway car and told a story about how they are homeless, used to be addicted to drugs, need help, and because of the person’s presentation, voice, story, I didn’t want to give him money, It seemed obvious that he was totally cracked out and lying. I thought maybe I won’t give this person, he doesn’t deserve it, maybe I’ll just give him very little, etc. And that internal conversation about whether or not to give, that’s why I love having this practice. Giving when it doesn’t feel comfortable, that seems to be where the practice is, for me. Having faith in my own capacity to be generous and having faith that maybe my quarters, my smile, my wishing him good luck would have any positive affect. Whether they do or not, it’s that aspiration that I don’t want to lose.
Knowing the world is broken, knowing it’s always been broken, and probably always will be, and at the exact same moment having full faith that we can heal the world, tikkun olam, through acts of loving kindness, g’milut hasadim, is what I’ve been meditating on. It’s a juicy practice, whether on your cushion or on the subway.
I’m curious about other people’s small practices in their daily lives- what do you do?