| Second Thoughts |

Lessons from the Classifieds

In a Jerusalem chareidi newspaper, I found the strangest classified section I have ever seen

Someone recently dented my car while it was parked in a public parking lot. There was no note, no apology, no offer to pay for the damage — which is the proper thing to do in such instances. But sadly, such notes are rare in today’s society. Such is life, I mused, that’s human nature. Self-centeredness, looking out for number one — these are the norms for today’s society.

Well, maybe not. Because not long after that incident I came across a very unusual classified ads section in a Jerusalem chareidi newspaper, the strangest classified section I have ever seen.

It is a combination Help Wanted and Help Available column all in one. But the help that is wanted or available has nothing to do with jobs or work. Instead, they are offers of help or requests for assistance. Called “Reshus HaRabbim” (“The Public Domain”), the feature carries an odd assortment of notices.

In one such notice, the writer declares that at a certain time on a certain day on a certain bus route, as he was exiting the bus with his stroller, he inadvertently scratched and possibly dented the stroller of one of the other passengers. If said passenger will contact him (here he gives his phone number), he would like to pay for the damages.

I was stunned. Here was someone going out of his way to make amends, when many people would have simply ignored it.

One of the most affecting was this: “On Tishah B’Av a man died after much suffering. He was all alone: no family, no relatives. It would be a true chesed if someone [and here I expected an appeal for money] could recite a chapter of Tehillim or study a Mishnah in his memory until the shloshim.” The notice goes on to give the man’s Hebrew name.

Another notice reads: “As we approach the Yamim Noraim, it is important to make shalom among us. If you are a teenage girl who wishes to make peace after an argument or a misunderstanding, but doesn’t know how to go about it, contact this number for assistance from an experienced counselor who has dealt with such issues all her life. Confidentiality assured. No fees. You don’t have to give your name at all.”

Many notices deal with health issues, or with the need for certain hard-to-find medications, or with the names of certain physicians or alternative medical practitioners who were of great help. Some request, or offer, genuine mother’s milk for infants.

If you seek a study partner for Torah study, there is a special organization that — without any fees — will connect you with the suitable people. You name the subject — Mishnah, Gemara, Navi, Chumash, Ramban, Talmud Yerushalmi — and they will supply the partner.

With the beginning of the new school year, a chesed organization asks for bookbags, pen-and-pencil cases, student briefcases, because these can run into hundreds of shekalim each.

At a time when the news is filled with stories of people with assault rifles who murder indiscriminately, or who kill with their hatred-filled rhetoric; when Israel is surrounded by ruthless murderers who take pride in destroying entire families and who are celebrated as heroes, it is comforting to know that in some corners of the universe there still exist people who are overflowing with kindness and goodness, who are concerned about others and who are filled with love and chesed.

Perhaps it is only the daily media that gives the impression that the world is overflowing with human depravity. That is, after all, their business: venality, brutality, and evil is exciting. That, and not stories of kindness and goodness, is what sells papers.  But perhaps the reality is different. Perhaps people are essentially good, and the thugs and evildoers are in the minority. The levels of chesed of these Help Wanted columns restore one’s faith in the essential decency of people. The headlines might recount tales of brutality, but on the inside pages one finds offers of loving-kindness in the classifieds. Which is a fine springboard for the Yamim Noraim.

As for the person who damaged my car, if he would come forward, I have a special gift for him: A permanent subscription to the paper with the Reshus HaRabbim classifieds.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 778)

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