A Smart Heart

Three things in human life are important:
The first is to be kind.
The second is to be kind.
And the third is to be kind.
(Henry James)

Two Jewish High School Graduations
This is what the student said at her graduation from a Jewish high school:
Here we learned to be caring people. (Hebrew – “Ba’alay Rachmanut”). And, on behalf of the class, she said: here we learned to be goodhearted. (Hebrew – “Tovay Lev”)

I was there last year, because I was the guest speaker, but, as far as I am concerned, she stole the show. I was sitting on the stage and was so moved that I wanted to get up right in the middle of her 4-minute presentation to hug her, to hug the others who had prepared the speech with her, to hug all the graduates who clearly agreed with the sentiment.

I mention this because as I write this, it is graduation time again — June, 2000 —  and there was a recent advertisement/announcement from a different Jewish high school graduation in a Jewish paper that caught my eye. There was a lovely picture of the graduates, and a note of congratulation, and then a list of all the colleges and yeshivas the students would attend the following year.

I believe that the school that proudly placed the announcement in the paper missed the point.

The implication — unintended I am sure — is that the purpose of the education was to get the students into fine colleges and yeshivas. What a contrast to the end-result of the other school: caring people, good-hearted people.

Jews have taken great pride in the intellectual achievements of their children, and justifiably so. As Jews, our history as immigrants in America made it critical that we get good jobs and have some stability in the New Land. My father, may he rest in peace, was going to be a doctor, no questions asked. That was the message from his Russian immigrant parents who had a small drygoods store in New Jersey.

Another Quote
Rav stated: The Mitzvot were given in order to refine human beings. (Leviticus Rabba 13:3 [Margoliot Edition])

Torah study ought to lead us to a life of Mitzvahs. It would seem, then, taking Rav’s statement seriously, that Mitzvahs have the ability to help mold our character. They can filter out jealousy, meanness, cruelty, pettiness, prejudice, hatred, self-centeredness, melancholy, despair, divisiveness, leaving behind human qualities such as love, caring, joy, optimism-about-life, altruism, sweetness, pleasantness, and desire-for-Menschlichkeit. (Consider the well-weeded garden; consider the glorious flowers, the nutritious vegetables.) This is encouraging, though it is by no means meant simplistically. By doing X or Y or Z, it does not mean that automatically the Mitzvah doer will become A or B or C type of person.

But Rav means that it can bring us closer to that goal. Here’s where Shakespeare comes in. In 12th Night, Malvolio says, “…some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em. (Act II, Scene 5) Switching from “great” to “kind” in our context, this would read, “…some are born kind, some achieve kindness, etc.”

Some people just seem downright decent, pleasant people. Others have to struggle with it every day, every hour. For some, it is a process filled with anguish. It is good to know that one of our Jewish institutions wants to make kindness such a high priority, because, in my opinion, what the world needs is much more kindness. Not that honing intellectual skills isn’t of great importance, but, at least from the standpoint of Tikkun Olam, a caring good, heart is what ultimately counts.

The Heroes
I spend my time with heroes, Mitzvah heroes. They take on the realities of Tikkun Olam with their giant, medium-sized, and small programs. They are inspiring and inspired and devoted to the Right Things. And…to the very last one of them, they are kind people. They are gentle, some, so very sweet, you melt in their presence. I would like our youth to have them as their role models. I would want them to say, “Yes, I would like to be like these gentle people when I grow up.” If our youth happen to have doctorates or are well-placed in successful professional positions, that is wonderful. But before that, and above that, is the caring and the good-heartedness.

The Third Quote
Yeho’ash, the Yiddish translator of the Torah, translates the phrase “Chacham Lev” in Exodus 36:2 as “klughartzig”. “Chacham” is “wise”, “intelligent”: klug; and “lev” is “heart”: hartz. Putting them together in one grand Yiddish word, klughartzig, it would mean something like, “applying-one’s-mind-in-the-service-of-the-heart.” And the abstract quality would be called “Klughartzigkeit”. A lot of hyphens. Good! I would add some more: let the graduates of our Jewish schools be described as follows: good-hearted, big-hearted, open-hearted, warm-hearted, fine-hearted, passion-hearted, deep-hearted, grand-hearted, smart-hearted, bright-hearted, brilliant-hearted, smart-hearted, sweet-hearted, in a word…Klughartzig.

They need it.
We all need it.

About the Author
Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 500 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values, besides reading from his own poetry. He is the author of 29 1/2 books on such topics as Mitzvah heroism practical and personalized Tzedakah, and Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well. Siegel has been referred to as "The World's Greatest Expert on Microphilanthropy", "The Pied Piper of Tzedakah", "A Pioneer Of Tzedakah", and "The Most Famous Unknown Jewish Poet in America."
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