The Other Five

Hashem gave us two tablets of commandments, half of which refer to mitzvot bein adom l’Makom, our relationship to Him, and half of which refer to mitzvot bein adom l’chaveiro, our relationship to each other. Whereas we are often conscientious about improving ourselves in the first category, i.e. about believing in The Almighty, about eliminating literal and figurative idols from our lives, about keeping Hashem’s name out of our less than polite remarks, about observing Shabbot, and about honoring our parents, we often slip from the center when it comes to the second category, i.e. when it comes to murder (okay, maybe murder is not such a problem), to adultery, to theft, to lying, and to coveting.


Examples of troubles in our interpersonal goings on include: general, unbalanced speech, lack of mindfulness in marriage, and insensitivity in our business dealings. Praying three times a day or connecting with The Boss by keeping our heads covered or our food kosher is necessary for our inner wellbeing, but is insufficient to ensure our continued spiritual growth. Namely, if we allow ourselves to become desensitized to the point that we cheat our friends or neighbors, if we put our worth in front of the worth of others, if we become so wrapped up in our work, in self-pity, or in other self-focused matters that we forget we are but an element of a greater klal and that we forget that our social connections are essential not just to the collective, of which we are a part, but to our personal welfare, to boot, we are not climbing morally, but are heading toward a deep kind of yerida.


To insure that our energies take us up, instead of down, we need to increase our beneficent interactions with others. Whereas acts of integrity are crucial to these exchanges, so, too, are thoughts based in humility and in compassion. It is not enough, for instance, not to worship media stars. We need, as well, not to desire the media devices, possessed by our associates, on which the celebrities parade.


Consider that a child, who is given a box of crackers to share among her classmates, might manifest uprightness in her handing each classmate a comparable amount, might manifest meekness in her not boasting about being the current snack monitor, and might manifest social concern in trading her own portion for the more crumbly portion of the last child she serves. Yet, she likely fails to grasp the gist of why it is commendable, let alone, self- beneficial to act in those ways.


The young one has more to learn, over the course of her lifetime, about being a mensch than she can glean from her understanding of her physical expressions of equity. It is bad to halt development of truth at the stage of lessons integrated in kindergarten. Better, is to layer an adult awareness of decency on top of our doings.


As evolving beings, it is essential for us to make a practice of wanting to engage in simple/mechanical kindnesses such as habituated donations to charity and such as regularly yielding our seats to the infirmed or elderly on public transportation, and in complex/ focused kindnesses such as helping make shidduchim in our communities and such as building bridges, at sma’achot, among various ethnicities of Yids. Our yearning to become upgraded beings counts in ways our acting can not.


Mull over the notion that the weaving together of our lives with the lives of others can be tedious and can even feel thankless, yet it remains vital that we strive to plait our experiences with the experiences of others. Reflect on the exhaustion, for example, that accompanies sitting, one or more times a week, with a friend who has to endure dialysis. Ponder, for instance, trying to explain to very young children why certain questions are not to be asked of guests. Take into account, as an illustration, the wear and tear involved in helping a large segment of one’s community assemble their sukkahs. Likewise, regard how providing shelter for a comrade, whose home is plagued by sewage floods, aiding an acquaintance in locating lost pets, or remembering to be quiet in shul can seem easier said than done.


Certainly, using our pocket change or our spare time to help food banks trumps our using those same resources to shop for trinkets. Counting to ten, before articulating anger, bests spending long minutes coordinating fancy clothes. Taking delight in the burnt chicken offered to us, by well-wishers, when we, ourselves, are incapacitated, carries us toward cultural sagacity.  At the same time, trying to reach those ends or even thinking about wanting to reach those ends, moves us forward.


Adultery, theft, lying and coveting, to some degree, are omissions of proper thought. The friend, who made sure that the fellow in the wheelchair was included in the circle of dancers at a simcha, modeled behavior for us. If we wished we had been him, we are, already partially him. The family member, who hugged the hygiene-challenged visitor, taught us how to respect others. If we wanted to have made that move, we already are on the path of having made it. The colleague, who left a job rather than perpetrate dishonesty, became our secret hero. If we laud, even privately, his behavior, we are already taking rudimentary strides toward emulating it.


We can not fill our days and nights with too many random acts of kindness or with too many premeditated cheseds. It is impossible for us to be too elevated when it comes to doing good deeds for our fellows. It is impossible for us to reach the pinnacle of mitzvot. On the other hand, if we break these goals into tiny steps, we might be embracing a grander level of them sooner than not.


The commandments focused on mitzvot bein adom l’chaveiro, like the mitzvot focused on mitzvot bein adom l’Makom, require not that we be golems of goodness, but that we infuse our choices with purpose. In coupling good intention to good acts, we advance our neshemot. Such an aspiration is, indeed, worthy.