Random Acts of Kindness

When we consider ‘random acts of kindness’ Jewishly, we usually think about things we might do, like offering our seat on a bus to an older person (fulfilling Leviticus 19:32 “you shall rise before the aged”) or simply smiling more at the people we encounter through the day (fulfilling Pirkei Avot 1:15 “Shammai says… Meet all people with a pleasant countenance”).  These are wonderful things to do – but we don’t often consider being on the receiving end of them. 

The attitude of the prophet Elisha may feel familiar.  When offered hospitality on his travels, he accepts but assumes that his hostess must want something in return, saying, “You have gone to all this trouble for us.  What can we do for you?” (2 Kings 4:13).  On receiving someone else’s kindness, we often make similar or worse assumptions about their motives.  We may wonder what someone smiling at us wants from us, rather than smiling back; we may snap at someone offering a seat because we don’t feel old enough to need it, rather than politely declining or redirecting the offer. 

Some people may have ulterior motives, but many are just like us: trying to make the world a slightly kinder place, with the response each attempt meets influencing whether or not we continue to try.  During Random Acts of Kindness Week and beyond, perhaps we might consider not only what we will do for others, but also how we will respond to the kindness that others show to us.   

LBC rabbinic student Eleanor Davis