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Eric Dangott

It is difficult to read the news.  IDF troops and Gazan civilians are dying in fighting in Gaza.  There are still over 100 hostages being held.  The Israeli government is in turmoil.  Cease fire and peace talks appear at a standstill.  It is too easy to find articles reflecting any of these items.  In the United States, Pro-Palestinian encampments led to turmoil on college campuses across the country.


As we approach Tisha b’Av, I try to imagine how the Jews of Jerusalem felt in 70 CE.  There was news of Jewish rebellion against the Romans, and the Roman response.  For four years, uncertainty and worry filled each day.  Was there a good way to free your mind and spirit of the shackles of stress?


NPR has a short weekday segment called, “My Unsung Hero.”  They describe it as, “stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.”  Part of what stands out about these   stories is that although their paths cross, the giver and the recipient don’t know each other, and never see each other again.  


I reflected on an Unsung Hero I encountered.  Around fifteen years ago I started running.  I ran my first half marathon and happily hit my goal.  The following year I ran the race again.  As the miles piled up, my legs were cramping.  I would stop, walk a bit, and get myself running again.  Each time I stopped, it was harder to restart.  At mile 12 I stopped again.  As I started walking, another runner passed me, tapped me on the side, and said, “No time to walk.”  Hearing those words I immediately started running, using him to keep pace.  When I finished and saw my time, I smashed what I had done the previous year.  One short sentence from a stranger helped me believe.


In a more extreme vein, John W. Schlatter shared a true story in Chicken Soup for the Soul. A young man was walking home from school, when a boy ahead of him piled high with books and belongings tripped, dropping everything.  The first youngster stopped and helped him pick everything up.  They spent much of the afternoon together.  They stayed acquainted, being in the same grade, but were not friends.  Before graduation, the young man that tripped asked to talk.  He said the events of that day years ago, sharing laughter and feeling like a person, kept him from committing suicide.  (You may have read an embellished version that is often seen online.)


We never know the impact of the things we do.  Rather than thinking of the big things and grand   gestures, Judaism reminds us to start with the small things.  Paraphrasing Ben Azzai from Pirkei Avot 4:2, Be quick in performing a minor mitzvah, for one mitzvah leads to another.


May we find space for the small things.  May it lead to bigger things.  May we each feel elevated and stronger from it.  In the tough and toughest times, may it let us see the beauty of life and living.

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