I am reading a book by the Dalia Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler called The Art of Happiness. In this book, the Dali Lama explains his Buddhist and life philosophy of being happy by developing an orientation of compassion and kindness to others. Happiness is not materialism, sensuality, pleasure, and envy and greed for ever more, but rather it is having calmness and peace of mind, being content with the gifts in life that we do have, relating to and connecting with other human beings, and treating everyone with “a sense of worth and dignity.”
When we are happy, we are able to graciously and generously give to others, and when we give to others, we are able to be happy! All the other pursuits in life such as wealth, ego, good looks, and so on are nothing but vanities (like King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes), and in the end lead to nothing but loss and suffering. However, giving and the happiness and positive spiritual energy it creates endures.
“Coincidentally” today, in the hall, outside of synagogue, Bernard who didn’t know me all that well, says to me: “You don’t know this yet, but you’re coming over to us for Shabbat lunch!” I tend to be a little shy but this time we decided to accept, this being the second invitation (the first one we passed on when he and his wife Rebecca invited everyone in synagogue to go for lunch to their sukkah a number of weeks ago. I figured that I needed to learn more about these people.
What I was amazed by with this lovely couple is that they were all about the mitzvah of hospitality (Hachnasat Orchim) like Avraham in last’s weeks Torah portion. They had a beautiful home and in it was long dining room table, set elegantly for Shabbat, with guests all around the table (and a stunning painting of the Rebbe on the wall)! Bernard and Rebecca opened up their beautiful home to “strangers” and made them feel completely welcome and important. Not everyone has that genuine warmth and is willing to share it openly with others.
Rebecca told the story of how she and Bernard met on JDate, and one of the first things when they talked was that Bernard asked her whether she’d be okay hosting 30-40 people or more for Shabbat meals. While some women would hang up the phone with that “come on line,” Rebecca (who was used to preparing for some 90+ guests at Chabad on campus) said seriously and eagerly, “Is that all, of course!” I couldn’t ignore how this was reminiscent of today’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, where Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, is looking for a wife for Avraham’s son, Isaac, and he asks G-d for a sign that when he goes to the well and asks for a drink, whoever offers not only to give him water, but also to give drink to his camels that is the women destined to be Isaac’s wife. And sure enough, Rebecca (“coincidentally” the same namesake as our host) comes along, and she exhibits the amazing kindness (chesed) that shows she is the one!
As the beautiful meal went on, Rebecca asks everyone around the table to introduce themselves to the other guests: to tell their name, where are they from, and then get this…what is an important act of kindness that you do! In other words, not only were they doing chesed regularly hosting large gatherings of people for Shabbat, but they encourage and inspire acts of chesed in others! It was interesting to hear the answers people gave in their introductions about their acts of kindness from raising children, to advocating for human trafficking victims, to being a volunteer fire fighter…everyone had something to contribute back to the community and the world!
Back to the Shabbat meal, we were grateful for this wonderful experience with Bernard, Rebecca, and their family, but even then, on the way out, Bernard says to me, “Every Shabbat, 1:00 pm, the door is open, please come every week for lunch!” With that we were on our way, with a lasting and meaningful lesson in hospitality and kindness that left me not only inspired and but also in a sense transformed as I see good people are still out there, and that the Torah carries on from Avraham’s time to today with strength and continuity of our people asking each other, “What is your kindness?”