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Lending a Helping Hand

07/28/2022 10:51:06 AM


Rabbi Sam Trief

To me, summertime has always been about journeys. Trips to camp, the mountains and the beach. Pilgrimages to Israel and meet-ups with friends and family members. So, it is fitting that we always read Parashat Matot-Masei in the midst of the summer months. Matot- Masei recounts in great detail the forty years of Israelite journeys through the desert.

Over the past few weeks, like many of you , I have taken a few trips.  Last Shabbat, I flew with Rafi and Maayan to New York.  Just me. No other adults. We sat in the back of the plane with a middle and window seat, it was not exactly my definition of “fun.”  The flight was going more or less fine, until Maya woke up and dropped a large bag of Cheerios on the floor. “Yikes. I’ll take care of that when the baby wakes up”, I thought to myself.

However, seconds later, a  flight attendant approached me with a little dustpan and a little broom.

I was dumbfounded. I took the items and sat with the dustpan in my hand for a moment. Did he give this to me for Rafi to play with?  Did anyone else get one of these? I soon realized that he gave me the dustpan, because he wanted me to clean up the Cheerios.  And so, I sprung into action. I woke the baby up, sat her down on my seat, I got down on the floor and swept up the cereal.

An hour or so later, that same flight attendant approached me again. He said that other passengers on the airplane confronted him about his behavior towards me.  He proceeded to pontificate: “I really don’t understand what was so wrong with what I did...I gave you the dustpan because I was trying to help you...”

I wasn’t sure if he was joking or serious. I remarked: “I genuinely appreciate it, but  to be candid, what would have been really helpful was if you said: don't worry about the Cheerios, it looks like you have your hands full.”

To which he responded: “Well it's not my job to clean up after your kids.”

I kept quiet, but I played the phrase over and over in my head: “It's not my job to clean up after your kids.”

Imagine if we all walked around saying: “It's not my job to clean up your mess.” Is this not the antithesis of the Jewish Message of tikkun olam, repairing our world?  Isn’t helping others “clean up” precisely our duty as human beings, and as Jews?”

I thought about it further. This man probably cleans up passengers' careless trash all day long. He also has likely never traveled alone with kids and was unaware of all the stress that it entails. He saw me as a slovenly mess, with lack of respect for the aircraft he was maintaining.  He didn’t see the other side, the nursing mother whose hands were literally and figuratively full.  And I saw him, an inconsiderate, ignorant man, handing me a dust pan.

This incident reminded me that there are often two sides of each story. And there are often two conflicting narratives. How do we live our lives so that with each encounter, we see humanity and struggle in the other?  While it might not necessarily be our “job” to clean up other people's messes, it is our duty to lend a helping hand. It is our duty to keep our eyes open to the situations of others. And it is our duty to step in, if we think we can help someone.

And so, this is the importance of our summer travels: we go out on the road, and  take journeys and trips, because it takes us out of our daily routine. Its  experiences like this, moments along the way  that help shape us,  guide us and change our perspective. It's no coincidence that our parasha reminds us of the 42 stops the Israelites made as they traveled through the desert. It is the stops on our journey that define our worldview, make us who we are, and hopefully inspire us to operate from a place of understanding, compassion and love. 

 Shabbat Shalom.

Wed, October 4 2023 19 Tishrei 5784