I spent my day yesterday getting gas.
All day. Seven hours.
I didn't even come prepared. I didn't bring anything to do or read while I waited. I had no idea I would wait that long. Had I known, I would never have gotten on that line. I wasn't even that desperate for the gas.
So I had plenty of time to watch the people outside my window. I got to know the drivers of the cars around me. I watched how people who started the day smiling became irritable as the day wore on. I witnessed the fight that broke out when someone cut the line and patience was wearing thin. I observed the man two cars ahead of mine who got out and pushed his car every time the line inched forward so as not to use whatever gas he had, and who, after waiting five hours, chose to leave.
Then, about three hours into my wait, I watched a man and his little girl walk from car to car offering candy and chocolate. And suddenly, the mood lifted, and there were smiles. People got out of their cars and talked to other drivers.
One small act of kindness, so much light.
Why did he do it?
Last week, my son and his friends drove to Sea Gate, an area that was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and helped some of the residents pack their belongings and load the trucks so they could leave.
Why did they leave their comfortable, dry yeshiva building to go help some people they didn't even know?
Why do we give?
In this week's parsha, Eliezer asks Rivka for some water from the well. She notices that he is leading a whole caravan of thirsty camels, and she voluntarily brings enough water for Eliezer and all of his camels. She had one motivation - to give to someone else with kindness.
Giving leads to caring. Every time we give, we invest ourselves in the lives of others and we become deeper and richer for it.
But the more we give, the more we care, and the more we open ourselves up to hurt.
The Chasam Sofer once did an enormous favor for someone, who later asked him, “What can I ever do to repay you for your kindness?” The Chasam Sofer replied, “One day, when you get upset and angry with me, please remember what I have done for you today. And, rather than pelting me with big rocks, please throw small stones instead.”
I don't give in order to receive. I don't give because I want the appreciation. A thank you can feel so rewarding, but it is not the reason I give.
But I am human.
I don't need the thank you, but when I am pelted with rocks, it hurts.
I sometimes think about protecting myself, about being more careful with how much I give and not opening myself up to hurt. I'm only human.
But...is this the kind of person I want to become? Is this who I want to be?
So when I find myself faced with the opportunity to do someone a favor, and a little voice inside me says, "She doesn't appreciate what you do for her," I won't listen and I will do it anyway. And when the voice says, "He will pelt you with big rocks," I won't listen and I will do it anyway.
When I have the opportunity to give, I will give.
I will do it because it is the right thing. And because that is the kind of human I want to be.