This week’s New Yorker magazine tells of the chief administrator of New York’s Plaza Jewish Funeral home who was scrolling Independent Films on the internet when she came upon a very familiar name and gasped. She immediately paged Geza Rohrig up to her office. Since 2001 he has been quietly working as a Shomer, one who keeps sacred-company with bodies of the deceased prior to their funerals.
“Son of Saul?” she said incredulously. “Oh, you found out,” Rohrig discretely replied. Rohrig plays Saul, the star of the Academy Award winning film that depicts thirty-six numbing hours in the evil-saturated world of Auschwitz Sonderkommandos. His desperately sacred errand to try and bury his son back in 1944 turns out to be a reflection of how he quietly lives in 2016.
An assistant headmaster at Boston’s Roxbury Latin High School invites students to volunteer to be pallbearers to help bury those without any family or friends. There is serene beauty in such acts of quiet goodness. Consider today’s publicity-gorged society. There could hardly be a more stark juxtaposition between the attention-infatuated and the attention-feigning.
We learn in this week’s Torah portion that there was a profusion of offerings brought baboker baboker “morning after morning” (Ex. 36:5). Commentators suggest that the phrase conveys not repetition, but the earliest, most morning part of the morning, bokro shel boker (Netziv). It is a time when the sky begins to get lighter, but it remains very dark. Why would anyone bring gifts at such a time? So that nobody would see them. Remaining unrecognized, their goodness would realize a sublime anonymity.
There is something so irreducible about generosity that is not tax deductible.
One might ask, what becomes of private goodnesses once they are publicized? On one level, acclaim does defuse their purity. Yet perhaps this is not entirely negative. Especially in so far as it might stir us to quietly fashion acts of private goodness of our own.