“Let there be such oneness between us that when one cries, the other tastes salt.” –Hebrew saying
In honor of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year, which starts tonight at sundown, I am writing about mitzvahs. A mitzvah is a good deed, and in Judaism we repair the world (“Tikkun Olam”) by performing mitzvahs.
This morning I heard a gentle voice whisper to me, “Go to where the words are.” Where the words are is where the charge is, where the power resides, and where the words come spilling forth like hot lava. I felt the words bubble up to the surface as I watched CBS Sunday Morning’s story about the Oscar winning actor, Tim Robbins, teaching acting classes to adult men in prison.
I loathe to admit it, but there have been moments when I have struggled with the notion of people spending time with inmates when they could be working with those who haven’t committed heinous crimes. It can feel unjust, and that there are more deserving populations who would benefit from this one-on-one attention.
However, my innermost self, the part of me that lives in my chest and gut, knows these inmates are people and deserve to be heard and healed just like anyone else. Before they were prisoners, they were sons and brothers and maybe husbands and fathers. Perhaps they made one terrible decision or a lifetime of them, but either way, they are still human beings.
As Robbins said in the interview, “People are going to get out of prison. I would think a smart society would want people with better tools than they had going in.” In California where 60 percent of inmates return to prison, Robbins also stated that not one person that he is aware of has been back to prison after completing the eight week workshop.
This compelling story reminds me of the most essential truth in our lives. No matter what religion or socio-economic situation we are in, we are all connected. This intricate web of interconnection and interdependence, the ebb and flow, the low tides and high tides are all part of the one constant pulse in and around us. As people we bask in the light of the waxing and waning moon just like the wandering ocean waves do. And in our essence, when one of us hurts, we all hurt.
Performing mitzvahs can be small gestures of kindness or they can be heartfelt, lifelong projects such as the work Tim Robbins is doing. Sometimes a mitzvah may take forgiveness, withholding of judgement, a leap of faith, or courage and compassion on the part of the giver, but always it is performed from a place of love. And every time we are the mitzvah maker, mitzvah receiver, or witness to the mitzvah, no matter how big or how small the deed, it serves to restore our faith in humanity and heal our own bruises as well as the wounds of the world.
When I see a humble man on a street corner with a sign plastered on his chest asking for money, I think that he has probably felt enough judgment in this life. What he needs is to be seen, and not as a man without a job or home, but as a fellow brother and human being. He deserves to be honored and held in safety and love for he too has a place in the nature of things.
We are the mitzvah makers the world needs! If we practice sincere gestures of kindness, not by being naive, but by acting, reacting, and reaching out from the depths of our souls, then we will help put tools in the hands of those who need them. It is the only way we can repair what is broken. In the spirit of new beginnings, may we all feel renewed and hopeful that we can and will make a positive difference in the oneness between us.