No inconsequential kindness

No inconsequential kindness

Rabbi Nosson Sachs
Rabbi Nosson Sachs

Beha-Alotekha, Numbers 8:1-12:16

When Miriam the prophetess sinned and was afflicted with tza’raas [a spiritual ‘leprosy-like’ disease], she was required to remain outside the camp. During her recovery, the nation did not proceed on their journey.

Picture the scene: There were some 2 million people anxious to travel home to Israel, but they chose not to move forward. They waited until Miriam was healed.

Rashi explains that this was the reward that G-d gave to Miriam for waiting a brief moment (80 years earlier) to ensure the welfare of her brother Moshe when he was floating in a basket as an infant on the Nile River. The payback for her standing in the reeds to see what would happen to Moshe was that now the entire Jewish nation would stand and wait for her.

Why did Miriam receive this reward now? Why was this the appropriate time for the Jews to show their appreciation to Miriam?  The answer is that it was only now that the Children of Israel were finally able to understand what her “small” action had accomplished.  For while reproving Miriam, G-d stated that the prophecy of Moshe was unique in its clarity because G-d’s relationship with Moshe was closer than with any other prophet.  “With him I speak mouth to mouth!”   

Miriam waited for a little baby floating in the Nile.  At the time it may have seemed like a very small and inconsequential act.  It was only many years later — over 80 years later — that they could understand and truly appreciate her act of patience that resulted in a prophet of G-d who was able to transmit to them the eternal, living Torah.

What does this mean for us?  While certain events in life are occurring, we often do not have an appreciation of their importance and significance.  It’s only in retrospect that we can appreciate the importance of a simple kindness, a gentle reply, or an act of patience.  Therefore, we should run to do kindness, no matter how small or inconsequential it seems.  For in retrospect we will learn that there is no such thing as an inconsequential kindness.  (Adapted from the works of Rabbi Yissochar Frand.)

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)