Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Man and the Food Barrels

By Susan Esther Barnes

On Erev Shabbat I was standing by the closed sanctuary doors. Inside, the congregation was singing Lecha Dodi to welcome the Sabbath Bride.

Opposite the sanctuary doors, near the main synagogue doors, there are two food barrels: One for the county food bank and one for a Jewish food pantry. I saw a man leaning over a backpack by the food barrels, a box of graham crackers at his feet.

At first I thought he was trying to extricate some items he had brought to put into the barrels. Soon, however, it became apparent that he was taking food out of the barrels and placing it into his backpack.

I considered going over to him to say something, but I thought, "How badly does he need the food to be doing that right in front of me?"

I knew if I said something to him, he would be embarrassed. Our tradition teaches us that if we cause someone to blush - if we make blood rise to their cheeks in shame - it is as bad as if we had shed that blood.

I thought about the people who had put the food into the barrels, trusting it would go to the food bank or pantry, to be distributed to those in need. By saying nothing to this man, was I betraying their trust? Or would they be glad to know their donation went to someone in our community with an immediate need?

As all these thoughts tumbled through my head, I turned my back to the man, to give him some sense of privacy. Clearly, staring at him wouldn't help anyone.

He finished gathering the items he had chosen, picked up his backpack, and left without either of us uttering a word. I wish now that I had said something kind to him, if only, "I wish you well."

As he made his way out into the cold world with its overcast sky threatening the rain that soon would begin to fall, the congregation reached the last verse of Lecha Dodi. I opened the sanctuary doors, and the Sabbath Bride rushed in to greet those inside, even as she reached out in the opposite direction, out through the synagogue doors, so seek out others in need.

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