True Stories of Kids Acting Kind
Someone once told Henny Machlis, a righteous woman who hosted hundreds every weekend for Shabbos meals, about a woman suffering from cancer. She immediately pulled out her tehillim and davened throughout the entire night for her recovery. That’s right: She did not sleep at all that night in order to pray for a stranger.
Henny Machlis has since passed away, and her neshamah’s departure from this Earth left a tremendous void. When I read this story about her, I had mixed emotions. I felt incredibly inspired and awed by her greatness but deflated when I compared it to my own spiritual ladder. Although stories about gedolim can be inspiring, their actions raise the bar so high that I’m often left wondering where that leaves someone like me. Will I ever reach even the bottom rung of their accomplishments?
I do believe that hearing “out of reach” stories have a positive impact on our soul. However, I must admit that sometimes I find it more empowering to hear about acts of greatness coming from a layman rather than a Torah giant. The fact that a regular person performed an act of kindness causes it to feel more doable.
I imagine that when children hear inspiring stories about adults, it also feels “out of reach.” Perhaps they would feel more empowered if they heard about great acts performed by kids their own age. The goal of this article is to share acts of kindness performed by children so that your child can read them and then strive for more. Additionally, not only can reading the stories below provide our children with a stepping stone of possibility, but maybe they will also give us a schema in which to visualize what can be possible in our own children.
The Mysterious Five Dollars
The Greenberg* family was hosting a parlor meeting for a new tzedakah organization in their home. They invited several philanthropists to join and discussed the organization around their large dining room table. When the night was over, and all the guests had left, the host and hostess opened the donation envelopes for an accounting of the evening. The pile reached high, and each envelope was labeled with the donor’s name. Midway through the pile, between the envelopes, they discovered a five-dollar bill that had been crumpled and flattened. They were mystified and looked at one another, wondering who would have given the five-dollar bill.
It turned out that their eight-year-old daughter, Shira, had secretly slipped the bill into the pile. With a heart of gold, she took the only bill from her wallet and shared it in order to partake in the mitzvah of tzedakah. Her only goal was to perform this mitzvah anonymously.
I Hate Recess
One morning during circle time, Yoni, a meek child in the class, shared that he hated recess. When circle time was over, Jake, a more confident boy, approached Yoni privately and asked, “Yoni, why do you hate recess?”
Yoni shuffled his feet and timidly responded, “Because no one ever wants to play with me.”
That very afternoon, Jake gathered the entire class of 23 boys, and created a new, imaginative game specified to what he thought would be Yoni’s liking. He knew Yoni liked a certain type of book and incorporated characters from the book into the game. He encouraged all the children to play together, and most importantly, made sure that Yoni was included and happy. With sensitivity beyond his years, he made sure that Yoni wouldn’t realize it was Jake orchestrating the game just for Yoni.
Jake never mentioned a word about it, but the teacher saw what he had done. A few days later, when the teacher followed up with Yoni about recess, he replied, “It’s going great! I haven’t had a problem since I mentioned it in class.” Yoni was able to maintain his dignity because of Jake’s humble act.
Ben was enjoying his bar mitzvah party when it was time for the buffet lunch. Ready for a good meal, many of the kids swarmed and began to pile the food onto their plates (a topic for a different article altogether). One of the adults, Dr. Kaufield, was standing near Ben, and they approached the smorgasbord simultaneously. Ben, with utmost grace, looked up at Dr. Kaufield and said, “After you. I hope you are enjoying the bar mitzvah!” This child had the perspective to allow adults, his guests, to partake first at his own celebration! A true mensch!
Avraham is a boy who loves to perform acts of kindness.
His mother shared the following story.
Every time a meshulach comes to our door, Avraham speaks with grace and immense kavod and offers him or her a drink. He then proceeds to run to his room and bring back Coffee Bean cards or Amazon gift cards in order to give to the person waiting on the other side of the door. If it wasn’t for me stopping him, he would literally give collectors his personal shoes, ties, coats, and whatever else detaches easily from the house. He is the child that brings the gardener water on a hot day and thanks the housekeepers profusely for their hard work. He constantly thanks Uber drivers repeatedly for driving him. The drivers never fail to look perplexed at Abraham’s maturity.
Whenever I am driving with Avraham, he asks me to pull over and buy flowers from the women selling them on the corner. One hectic Friday afternoon, I suggested simply giving the lady money instead of buying flowers. Avraham, with his piercing grey eyes, looked at me and said, “Mommy, that would make her feel like a charity case. She is selling something as opposed to just asking for a handout. Just giving her money might insult her or degrade her. Please, can we let her have the kavod of earning it?” That is one of many Avraham stories I could tell.
One Thursday evening, Aaron’s family ordered pizza. Starved, as soon as the pizza touched the counter, Aaron’s siblings raced towards the steaming box. They put the slices directly on their plates and chowed down, barely making it to their seats first. Aaron, the oldest, calmed the crew down and said, “Wait! Wait! I need to take first!” He proceeded to put the slices on the plate, but rather than taking it to his spot at the table, he walked it over to the housekeeper and said, “Here, I want to make sure you have some first!” The housekeeper was beaming, and a kiddush Hashem, a mitzvah of the highest caliber, had been performed.
The Lone Bar Mitzvah
One weekend, in a thriving Jewish community in New York, a boy named Reuven was invited to three bar mitzvahs on one Shabbos. Two of the bar mitzvahs were located in Spring Valley, and the third was located in Forshay, a different neighborhood altogether.
Usually, the schools have a schedule that does not allow for more than one bar mitzvah per weekend, and if there ever is more than one bar mitzvah, they usually make sure the boys attend equally. For some reason, these rules were not in effect for this particular weekend.
Reuven’s mother, a close friend of the family celebrating, was also invited to a bar mitzvah in Spring Valley. She suggested to Reuven, “Why don’t we spend Shabbos in Spring Valley, and that way you can attend two bar mitzvahs and at least make two of the three boys happy?” Reuven usually loved packing up and going to Spring Valley for Shabbos, but this time, he only quietly agreed. Later that night, he said, “Mommy, I need to call my rebbe. I have a sheilah, for him.” He did not tell his mother what the sheilah was.
Privately, he called the rebbe and explained his predicament. “I know my mother wants me to come with her to the bar mitzvahs in Spring Valley, but I want to make sure that the boy in Forshay has friends going.”
The rebbe checked in with the parents in Forshay, and it turned out that not one child was going to his bar mitzvah! The rebbe planned to walk over for it, at least.
Not wanting to upset his mother, Reuven said, “Mommy, I do not have the heart to not attend the bar mitzvah in Forshay. Not one boy from our class is going. Would it be okay with you if I went to that one?”
Proud of his sensitivity to the Forshay bar mitzvah boy, his mother gladly agreed, and Reuven walked one hour with his rav in order to participate in that child’s bar mitzvah.
Her Foot Hurts Us
Many have heard the famous story of Rabbi Aryeh Levine’s wife. She hurt her foot, and she and her husband traveled in unison to the doctor.
“What’s going on?” the doctor asked them.
The rabbi replied, “My wife’s foot hurts us.”
This story expresses an incredibly high level of empathy and love towards one’s spouse and certainly gives the reader something to aspire to. However, I was amazed when a good friend called to share a similar story from her daughter.
One evening, she found her two daughters crying upstairs in their room. Expecting that they had been fighting, she asked, “What happened to you both?” She was gearing up to referee some sort of confrontation.
Shayna announces, “I fell and hurt my leg!”
“Oy, Shayna, would you like some ice?” Her mother responded. But, before going to get her ice, she checked in on Sarah, who was crying as well. “Sarah, are you also hurt? Do you need ice, too?”
Sarah responded with sincerity, “I’m crying because Shayna hurt her leg.”
Great acts of chessed are not reserved for a select few. Perhaps we, and our children, can perform magnanimous acts of kindness as well. If we remember these stories and revise our goals to become more reachable, we too can reach great heights. When reading these stories with our children, we can ask them which story they think might be the easiest to imitate, or which they believe to be the greatest. Who knows, perhaps they will have a story of their own to share with you.
*These stories are collected from the author’s friends and family. All names and identifying details have been changed in order to protect the privacy of those involved.