Never Forget Act Act of Kindness: The Light Never Dies

Never Forget Act Act of Kindness: The Light Never Dies
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<p>Kindness Reverberates Forever: Remember to Say Thank You </p>

Kindness Reverberates Forever: Remember to Say Thank You

The Invisible Acts

What do you forget and what do you remember?

Throughout Yom Kippur, culminating with the service of Neilah, we sing the 13 Divine attributes of Mercy and proclaim that God is Notzer Chesed Lealafim – a preserver of kindness for thousands of generations. God always remembers. He never forgets an act of kindness.

Why do we recognize this attribute of God on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year?

I learned the answer this summer at the funeral for Sam Fogel, beloved father of Howard, one of our members and friends. I gained a new appreciation of what it means for an act of kindness to be sustained by God for generations and its implications for all of us.

There may not be a darker place on earth than the hell of Berkenau, a concentration camp. The systematic murder of Jews took place in an attempt to carry out the final solution. Sam survived numerous concentration camps but finally found himself broken and beaten at Berkanau. So much so that he testified that one night, he was so despondent and miserable that he could not take it any longer. How could he go on? The pain was too much to bear.

He crawled towards the barbed wire fence ready to give up his life. As he grew closer, the Nazi standing guard saw Sam knowing full well his intention. As Sam writes, “He pointed his pistol at me and I was waiting for him to pull the trigger. I looked sadly straight into his eyes almost pleading with him to get it over with. He looked at me with pity, turning to the right and to the left to see if anyone was watching us. He then put his hand in bag and gave me sandwich. I could not believe my eyes. When I finished the food, he pointed at me to go back to work.”

Even in the valley of the shadow of death, in the hardened hearts of the Nazis, a flicker of life and hope was not extinguished. In a moment of utmost despair, an act unexpected Divine act of grace brought a dead man back to life.

In that moment, this anonymous Nazi, cruel and coarse, rediscovered his soul even if fleetingly and in one act of kindness restored Sam’s faith in his future. One light of generosity was unleashed in the world and it shines and reverberates eternally.

Sam married, raised three wonderful sons, who in turn married and bore seven grandchildren. He built a successful tie business employing over 100 people and caring for their families. God remembers the act of kindness. We are the beneficiaries through the Fogel family of the power of this act of kindness – never dying and rippling across time and from space – from Europe to America, from the 1940’s to 2017. New lives are born, hope and faith restored. God does not forget an act of kindness. He sustains, and grows it.

One of the most moving examples of God recognizing the ripple of one act of generosity occurred when the Jews were travelling in the desert over 3,000 years ago.

God insures that kindness like energy never dies. Miriam spoke ill of her brother Moshe when she questioned his uniqueness as a prophet. As punishment, she was sent outside of the camp for seven days. Three million waited until she returned. They could have begun to travel and Miriam could have caught up with the Jewish people but God waited and so did the Jewish people. Rashi, the great medieval commentator, explains God’s rationale. God honored Miriam and had everyone wait in recognition of the moments over 80 years earlier when Miraim waited in the reeds to observe Moses as he was placed in the Nile. As a young girl, she gazed in concern about his fate. Never forgotten by God and rewarded decades later.

These stories taught me the power of one small act in a fleeting moment, a split second decision to become eternalized and affect worlds and generations. It is a inspiring reminder for all of us.

I learned something else which to me speaks to the core of a spiritually meaningful and blessed life.

It is not only the central theme of Yom Kippur but of being a Jew. We are obligated To Walk in the Ways of God. The Talmud explains that we become Godlike by emulating his attributes. Just as God is kind so too should we be kind. As God is slow to anger, so should we be. As God never forgets an act of kindness nor shall we. There are so many people to whom we owe thanks, to whom we are the beneficiaries. Rather than forget, we need to remember.

When we, walk in humility and appreciate all of the steps and people that enabled us to be where we are today we will pay forward the act of kindness every day. Every day is a gift and an opportunity to say Thank You.

Ironically, we know how it feels when we do not receive recognition. We've all had the unfortunate experience of doing something for someone and never hearing a simple "thank you" in return. It makes us feel sad, perhaps a little hurt or even a little angry, when we have really gone out of our way to help someone. We may think, "How dare they not appreciate what I did for them!"

Rather than stay bitter, say Thank you. Emulate God and remember acts of kindness. It makes people great! There is not a single person here who is not the beneficiary of thousands of acts of generosity. Starting with our parents, siblings, co-workers, children, a spouse, friends, a stranger…do we remember their deeds, do we express appreciation or do we forget.

Warren Buffett once said, someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. Who planted your tree?

Soon Yom Kippur will be a memory and the question will be whether we have changed. No two words can more deeply impact our relationship with God and our family, community and friends thank saying a genuine Thank You. When we are sincere, specific and let people know how much their kindness means to us, it can have a profound impact.

Never forgetting an act of kindness is the essence of leading a spiritually attuned life. The foundation of being a Jew is the attribute of Hakarat Hatov – recognition for all of the kindnesses done to us whether by God or humanity.

This theme is truly the definition of holiness. The Kotker Rebbe stated that the road to holiness is through meschlechkeit. Being a mensch means be a grateful person and expressing appreciation for the smallest of kindness. Not taking people for granted. Not seeing relationships as transactional. Genuine gratitude is the glue for our relationship with God and mankind.

The most righteous in our faith are the most grateful. I heard a story about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the great Torah leader of the 20th century. One Saturday night, he left Staten Island, a satellite of his Yeshiva, to travel back to the Lower East Side. As the car was already on the way, Rav Moshe exclaimed, “Stop. I forgot something very important. We must return to the Yeshiva right away. The driver quickly turned around and headed back. As soon as the car stopped, Rav Moshe jumped out and made a bee line to the kitchen. The boys in the car wondered what he forgot. Perhaps some food.

Instead, Rav Moshe went straight to the inner room where the elderly Russian woman, the Yeshiva cook could be found. In perfect Russian, Rav Moshe said to her, “I am sorry I left so quickly, I have an important meeting in New York. However, after I left I realized that in my haste I had forgotten to say thank you for the wonderful food you prepared for us this Sahbbat It was delicious and tasty as usual. Thank you very much. Please forgive me for forgetting to say thank you before I left. May you have much nachas from your children and grandchildren.”

The look on the cook’s face was incredulous as she could hardly believe that the head of the Yeshiva would take the time to come back and thank her personally.

While in the car ride home, the students asked Rav Moshe if by Jewish law, he was obligated to turn back to say thank you. Looking surprised, Rav Moshe, replied, There is no limit to Hakarat Hatov, saying thank you. It is the foundation of the entire Torah. “

Over time, if we express the gratitude, it will not only impact our relationships but fundamentally change we who we are. We will become our best selves.

I want to conclude with a story from the book A Simple Act of Gratitude

One recent December, at age 53, John Kralik found his life at a terrible, frightening low: his small law firm was failing; he was struggling through a painful second divorce; he had grown distant from his two older children and was afraid he might lose contact with his young daughter; he was living in a tiny apartment where he froze in the winter and baked in the summer; he was 40 pounds overweight; his girlfriend had just broken up with him; and overall, his dearest life dreams--including hopes of upholding idealistic legal principles and of becoming a judge--seemed to have slipped beyond his reach. Then, during a desperate walk in the hills on New Year's Day, John was struck by the belief that his life might become at least tolerable if, instead of focusing on what he didn't have, he could find some way to be grateful for what he had. Inspired by a beautiful, simple note his ex-girlfriend had sent to thank him for his Christmas gift, John imagined that he might find a way to feel grateful by writing thank-you notes. To keep himself going, he set himself a goal--come what may--of writing 365 thank-you notes in the coming year. One by one, day after day, he began to handwrite thank yous--for gifts or kindnesses he'd received from loved ones and coworkers, from past business associates and current foes, from college friends and doctors and store clerks and handymen and neighbors, and anyone, really, absolutely anyone, who'd done him a good turn, however large or small. Immediately after he'd sent his very first notes, significant and surprising benefits began to come John's way--from financial gain to true friendship, from weight loss to inner peace. While John wrote his notes, the economy collapsed, the bank across the street from his office failed, but thank-you note by thank-you note, John's whole life turned around.

Kralik sets a believable, doable example of how to live a miraculously good life.

Yom Kippur awakens us to the gift of life, the love of God and the power of gratitude. May we merit appreciating each of God’s blessings of joy, health, love, and growth and be written sealed this coming year in the book of life.

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