March 2006 - Volume 10, Issue 8

Abe's Act Of Kindness

By Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz

Photo of a hammer on wood

There once was an elderly builder named Abe. Abe had worked hard all his life and finally he was ready to retire. He was tired from his years of hard physical labor. His body needed to rest, and he wanted to live a more leisurely life with his wife, enjoying his extended family. Abe would, of course, miss the income, but his family could just get by, and he really wanted to retire.

For 20 years, Abe worked for the same contractor. With a heavy heart, Abe went to him to announce his plans to leave the house building business. The contractor was sorry to see his best builder leave. He asked Abe if he would build just one more house. He said: "I know you're tired, but you're my most dependable worker. I have an important project only you can do. I'm not asking for a favor; I'm asking for an act of kindness. Abe, I really need you."

Abe felt weariness across his back and aching in the muscles of his arms. He really wanted to retire, but the years of working together meant a lot to Abe. He decided to say "yes" to his long-time boss.

It was a big house, an unfortunate choice when Abe was so tired, but he pulled himself together and each day he tackled the challenge without complaining.

The work was hard, and he could hardly wait for the day the house was finished. Finally the day came when he hammered the last nail and cemented the last brick. Abe was done, but not really, not until the contractor carne to inspect the house. Only then could Abe pack his tools away and retire.

His boss finally arrived. But, rather than doing his usual walk through to inspect the house... instead, he reached in his pocket and handed the front-door key to Abe. "This is your house," he said, "my gift to you."

"Abe, over the years we've worked together, I've watched your kindness, to the home buyers, to your fellow workmen, and to me. When I asked you to extend your retirement as an act of kindness, you could have refused, but you didn't. When you retire, I want you to live in the house your kindness built." And with this gift, the two men embraced, each gently weeping.

The story of Abe the builder is how it is for us. We build our lives with the yes's and no's we utter; to the requests, the responsibilities and the opportunities that come our way.

Within the Jewish tradition kindness is never perceived as a "formal" requirement. Competency, honesty and even chanteys are requirements, but kindness is in a whole different category.

According to Judaism, kindness is the highest expression of our humanity. It's not a commandment, it's an extra option, and God watches and rewards this "extra." In essence, God looks kindly on our kindness. And, ultimately, each of us lives the life our kindness builds.

There is a basic truism to our lives: When we're kind to our neighbors, they're more neighborly. When we're kind to our family, they're more loving. When we're kind to strangers, they feel seen and heard. And, when we're land to ourselves, we feel peace and self-acceptance. The quality of our life today is the result of our acts of kindness yesterday. And, the quality of our life in the upcoming New Year will be the result of our acts of kindness today.

We each live in the house we build with our everyday actions. May we all be blessed, and bring blessings, by building for ourselves many "houses of kindness."

B'Shalom (in peace).