The other day, I witnessed a woman in the supermarket telling her kids she needed to find her glasses so she could read her shopping list. Meanwhile, the glasses were clearly on top of her head! I was unsure whether it was my place to say anything, so I didn’t say a word. Afterwards, I thought to myself that perhaps if I did say something, I could have saved her a few moments of annoyance in exchange for a few moments of embarrassment. Did I do the right thing? When it is appropriate to help a stranger who is not asking for help?
To Help or Not to Help
They say that the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred, sin’at hinam. The best way for the Jewish people to get back into Hashem’s good graces would be by doing acts of ahavat hinam – baseless love. Put another way, spontaneous, unasked for acts of kindness.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller once commented, if you are driving down Coney Island Avenue (that’s a busy, business street in Brooklyn), and you see an elderly person waiting at the bus stop and you know the bus is blocks away, you have an obligation to stop your car, pick him/her up, and drive them to their destination.
Whoa! That’s a lot to ask. But imagine if you did it! How great would you feel?! Of course, that’s not so easy to do under today’s conditions, but I think you get the point.
If you would have told that woman in such a way that her kids didn’t hear or see you telling her anything, that would have avoided any embarrassment and you would have done an act of ahavat hinam, for which you would be rewarded. You didn’t do anything wrong – you just missed an opportunity for a mitzvah.
That’s an important lesson for all of us. To go the extra mile, even if it means driving a few minutes out of your way.