April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

An opportunity to perform a chesed appeared right in front of me. I hesitated for a moment because I knew that in the COVID-19 era, some formerly harmless interactions could now have harsh, unintended consequences.

And then I decided to go ahead and do the good deed, despite the unknowns.

I was walking on Magnolia Street in my hometown of Highland Park, early on a Friday afternoon and I saw an older man, with some evident disability or physical limitation, try, without success, repeatedly, to reach down and grasp a black down winter coat (why did he have a winter coat on a day with temps in the 60s?) on the sidewalk.

I noticed he wasn’t wearing a face mask or gloves.

I thought I saw a slight tremor in his hand (what did that signify?).

And as I got closer, I noticed he wasn’t saying much.

I said to him that I’d pick up the coat and give it to him. Then I did. I don’t recall him responding, perhaps he grunted (what did that mean?).

I was wearing a surgical mask and latex gloves.

The entire encounter probably didn’t last more than a minute.

After the handoff, I returned to my stroll to my car. And once I was behind the wheel, I took off the gloves carefully and set them aside.

Did I just do something risky?


He was an older man, a stranger, with some evident health impediments and possibly a cognitive one too—all of which make him more susceptible to catching the coronavirus. He was not wearing any personal protective equipment. And I grasped an item of his clothing.

I was aware the entire time that there was the distinct possibility that I was exposing myself to a carrier. And there was also the possibility, slight though it may be, that I’m an asymptomatic carrier and I exposed him to the virus.

Yet I was also aware that my value system, and the world I’m trying to build, is one that embraces acts of kindness and human decency. Our mesorah teaches us that by performing these acts, which fall in the category of ahavas chesed (loving acts of kindness), we emulate Hashem, Who is always performing kindness for us unworthy mortals. And without those acts the world would be a cold, unwelcoming and ungodly place.

We also learn from Rambam:

“It is necessary for every person to see themselves throughout the whole year as being evenly balanced between innocence and guilt, and to look upon the entire world as if it is evenly balanced between innocence and guilt. And so if you commit one aveirah (negative act), you tilt the scale for yourself and the entire world to the side of guilt and cause its destruction. But if you do just one mitzvah (positive act), you tilt yourself and the entire world to the side of merit and bring about liberation and redemption for yourself and the entire world.” (Laws of Teshuvah 3:4)

At the time of my encounter with the stranger, I decided that without clear evidence that a particular act of goodness was detrimental (and not just potentially so), I would accept the risk. And on later reflection on my experience on Magnolia Street and my values, I’ve decided to make that approach my policy in the uncertain weeks ahead.

Because the world just might need that one more act of chesed.

By Harry Glazer


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