First, pardon me for the super-Jewy intro. I promise this post will get to writing by the end. Over Shabbos, I was reading this:
It’s one of the many books authored by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim (which is the title of his first and possibly most celebrated work).
Ahavas Chesed is about not only how to do acts of lovingkindness, but also how to LOVE to do them. The book has an interesting structure. It begins with the rules of lending money to people without charging interest and paying wages on time and accurately. Then it backtracks to a more generalized discussion of what chessed is, the excuses people make not to do chessed, and why we should do chessed. Only after that does the Chofetz Chaim return to practical questions of Jewish law.
In the discussion of “why we should do chessed,” I found the most interesting statement:
…Scripture has advised us that when we see the merits of our forefathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] becoming exhausted, we should ourselves awaken the attributes of G-d’s goodness and chessed [lovingkindness] for us by clinging in our deeds to these same virtues…This mitzvah [commandment] also contributes to the deliverance of Israel from among the…nations…
(p. 95 of the Feldheim pocket edition in English only)
Basically, the Chofetz Chaim says that when the Jewish people suffer at the hands of non-Jewish nations, the best thing we can do to protect ourselves from them is to do acts of lovingkindness to each other and for human beings in general. He elaborates in the text as to how and why this works, but I think you can catch the drift here.
As I write these words, Jews are being attacked in the streets of Israel by knife, gun, and car. Many media outlets outside Israel write headlines that highlight the deaths and incarcerations of Muslims (both Palestinian and Israeli Arab Muslims) who have perpetrated these attacks, while ignoring that those who were killed or arrested had killed or attempted to kill civilians. (By the way, I by no means intend to say that all Palestinians or that all Israeli Arabs want to attack or have attacked Jewish Israelis. That is certainly not the case.)
As Sarah Tuttle-Singer pointed out in a column last week, there are no sirens before a stabbing. Despite all the demands that Jews acquire guns or learn Krav Maga, there is pretty much no “logical,” “material,” “this-worldly” way to keep an entire population safe from these types of lone wolf, disorganized attacks.
If we listen to the Chofetz Chaim, there is an otherworldly response: to do more lovingkindness.
Whether you think of yourself as a writer, or more as a reader, there are ways to use writing to respond to danger. And so, I suggest to you…
10 WAYS TO USE WRITING TO ADD MORE LOVINGKINDNESS TO THE WORLD:
- Write a letter to someone who is older and alone – your great-uncle, a former neighbor, your widowed grandmother.
- Send an email to a store you recently patronized, complimenting the service of an employee who treated you well. Or just thank anyone for a non-material gift they extended to you. (“Thank you for always smiling when I come in the door.” or “Thank you for cleaning up that spill in the break room yesterday.”)
- Slip a note into your child’s lunch with a specific comment regarding something you know that they are struggling with, telling them you support them and recognize their efforts.
- Hunt down a former teacher or supervisor, telling them specifically which lessons they taught you that you still use today.
- Write a poem. It can be bad. Then send it to your mother or grandmother. She won’t care that it’s horrible.
- Afraid to write? Find a book, a poem or article in a magazine and share it with a friend, relative, or neighbor who is interested in the topic or theme of the piece. (Don’t just link to it: actually present them with it in print. It’s more meaningful.)
- Write a complimentary review for a (not-yet-bestselling) book and post it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads.
- Write a long-overdue apology. Send it.
- Buy a card with a pretty cover and no words inside. Write: “I’ve been thinking of you,” in your nicest cursive handwriting. Mail it to someone who lives far from you but isn’t far from your thoughts.
- Write down a meaningful memory about someone, in full detail both about what happened and how it made you feel. Share it with them, maybe adding it to an object related to that memory. (For example, the first time “you made me try avocados” with an actual avocado.)
Do you have other ideas to share? Add them in the comments.