What’s a Mitzvah?

Performing a kind act solely because you’re in a position to do so

WE LEARN BEST AMONG EACH OTHERI don’t know many Hebrew words, but Mitzvah is one of my *favorites. Technically, it means “commandment,” but it also goes by the above definition, which is how it was broken down for me. I think about the word often ‘cause I’m almost always in a place in life where my right-now resources are relatively rich. Yet shedding comparisons, quieting the noise, ditching conditions, excuses, and all those countless words I’d use to describe my otherwise good intentions only leaves “because I can.” So, “help that person because you can” has become a personal commandment.

Right. Well, nobody wants to hear about how I threw a dollar at a homeless dude as I exited Breakfast Coma Café, so don’t worry, that’s not where this is going. You probably don’t really care what I do; more relevant is how one can be coerced into developing character.

Like a lot of people, at some point I realized I’m always going to be in a position to help someone else because there will always be those who have less than I do. I’ll never be without opportunities to shut up, get over myself, and be of genuine use to someone. The question is whether or not I do those things.

BAR HUMBUGWhat’s most unfortunate about Thanksgiving week in America are the crass commercial references to kindness, gratitude, and generosity: they flatten me with cynicism. It’s consumer-based monkey training that reflects not who we are, but rather who retail merchants want us to imagine we are. In reality, we’re all in this together. And I say we’re better for and around each other when we reject this kind of holiday noise. I do that by acting on things like, “I’ll be nice to that person – because I can.” “I’ll let this lady’s Volvo pull in front of me rather than condemning her to hell with Hitler – because I can.”

Good  Intentions  and  Gold Toilets_Where Excuses Go to DieI’m not always so good. Yesterday someone dropped his groceries in front of me at the supermarket, and while I’m not one of these people to wait for someone else to chip in first, I do, as a personal policy, decide if the person is bat-shit crazy before raising an eyebrow, let alone a finger. I’m not gettin’ pulled into that, no way. In this case, I must admit, I stood my ground and chose not to move. The guy’s cans and food items were rolling this way and that, and I must have looked like an asshole just standing there regardless of my reasoning. It was this coldness that bothered me later: I had failed to remember “because I can.”

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that charity, kindness, and generosity don’t come naturally to me. You’ll find no contrived goody-goodness bumper stickers on my car. I need reminders. Real ones. I need the word Mitzvah.

Maybe it’s easier for you. Perhaps you’re less openly distrustful than I am. Maybe it’s less necessary for you to fight what later makes you feel small. Perhaps you don’t care to wrestle with the deeper stuff, or maybe, when you do something kind for someone, you expect it to be recognized. That’s okay too, especially this week, with generosity, kindness, and gratitude flying through the air as holiday marketing buzzwords. The stage is set for you to take advantage of the fact that folks are looking for someone to applaud. Whatever it takes. If it means actually helping someone, just do it.

Because you can.



*”Schmuck”is my #1 favorite – though considered English, it comes from Yiddish (Engliddish? Yinglish?)  

2 thoughts on “What’s a Mitzvah?

  1. It’s interesting what a chasm exists between “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”
    “helping someone…just because you can.”
    It cuts to the bone, the essence of free will. We have free will and therefore we have no excuse when treating others poorly, nor should we knock ourselves out congratulating ourselves when we treat others well.

    Either way, we did it because we could.

  2. So, the saying, “this isn’t my first Mitzvah” doesn’t really make any sense then. Interesting. Thank you for clarifying that for me. Good article.

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