About three stops from the end, everyone in my car exits. I’m left alone.
The door opens from another car. Enters a 30-something year old guy, big, and obviously drunk. I’m at the other end of the car.
He calls out, “Hey, you got a match?”
I answer, “I don’t smoke.”
He says, “I guess then you wouldn’t have any matches.”
He stumbles over to me. I’m getting a bit nervous. He’s bigger than me, and I’m a worrying kind of guy.
He leans over close to me, about five inches from my ear, and whispers: “Tzedaka. You know what tzedaka is?”
Surprised and amused, I answer “yes.”
He waits. I pause. Then I take a dollar out of my pocket and give it to him.
He begins to stumble away.
I don’t know what happened to me, but I call after him, “Hey. I gave you something. Now you give me something.”
He looks back at me, not understanding. I say it again, “Give me something.”
I call out, “I gave you tzedaka. You give me a blessing.”
He looks puzzled.
I say, “I have a kid who just had two knee operations. Do you have a blessing?”
He stops. Looks straight at me, thinking what to say. “I guess you don’t believe in Jesus, huh?”
I shake my head.
He says, “I bless you that your kid will be healthy.”
Then he takes a step to walk away and stops. Puts his hand on the subway pole, turns back to me and says, “And I give you a blessing, that whatever happens to your kid, God will give you the strength to handle whatever it is.”
Wow. I was overcome with emotion.
I had given him a dollar from my pocket.
He gave me a blessing from his heart.
The train stopped. We said goodbye to each other. “Goodbye friend, thank you.” “Goodbye friend, have a good day.”
At the moment, I didn’t know what propelled me to ask him for a blessing.
Looking back, I understand it like this:
Asking for something – a cigarette or money – can be a very degrading and humiliating experience.
He had given me the chance to be a giving person – to give to him. Though I hesitated and didn’t give with a full, open heart or smile, after giving something to him – I actually felt good about myself.
I wanted to offer him, too, the chance to give something and feel good about himself.
In the end, he gave me so much – a moment of netzach, of eternity – a moment that I will never forget.
Our souls are wired to give. That’s how the Creator created us. Sometimes the kindest act we can do is to receive – to allow someone else to give to us.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.