Last month I was boarding a flight home from Miami. There were several people who availed themselves of the pre-boarding option, as they felt they needed more time to get settled into their seats and to put away their hand luggage. The idea is to reduce delays during general boarding by allowing families with small children as well as disabled people to board early.
One fellow loudly expressed his disgust that he had paid for a First Class ticket and had to wait to be allowed onto the plane. It took more than a little self control to refrain from informing this entitled person that the only class he was displaying was acting like a first class jerk.
On another occasion I was in a new luxury high rise on Central Park West. The building was nearing completion, and some of the construction workers boarded the elevator in which an apartment owner was riding with me. This tenant insisted that they exit and take the stairs instead. After they complied, he turned to me and remarked, “Forty million dollars for an apartment and I have to ride with the help.” I wanted to comment on his watch, “That’s a beautiful timepiece. Forty thousand dollars for a watch and it’s still worn by a moron.” I held my tongue then too.
I can’t help but contrast that with something I merited to witness recently. A musician friend of mine was playing a gig for havdala at someone’s house. It was a kiruv style event for around 25 high school age boys. He invited me to play my violin to accompany his guitar and vocals. That evening was so very inspiring, but not only for the heartwarming sounds of a roomful of voices sharing a spiritual high.
The house did not stand out, nor was there any indication of the financial status of its owners. Regardless, a line of people still wearing their Shabbos finery waited patiently outside for their turn to collect a donation. The generous philanthropy of this family is well known, despite the humble dwelling and lack of luxury cars in the driveway. It is not necessary to name them here. The young mother of the home asked me if I knew where she might donate the leftover food from that Shabbos, and I put her in touch with a local men’s shelter. She personally loaded boxes of delicacies into her car and drove them there by herself. I was so taken with their selfless attitude, with the values they instill in their children simply by the example they set.
If you were asked who is happier, the self-centered person or the selfless one, what would you answer? Is it counterintuitive to think that by giving to others you become happier than if you focus on yourself? Of course, we must pay some amount of attention to our own needs so that we can be there for others. But if we are only living for ourselves, can we truly feel complete? How do we achieve a sense of balance in our lives?
There are some people whose time spent in service to the community exceeds the time and effort they invest at home. The needs of the heartbroken, the destitute, and people in pain can be unending. It can feel quite fulfilling to help alleviate suffering. I certainly understand the compulsion to help everyone, to never have to say no. There are plenty of opportunities to share our funds as well as our time with others. In fact we are given minimum amounts to tithe as well as guidelines for maximum outlays in most cases. The idea of separating our money for donations applies to our time as well. If there is a minimum percentage of money and time we must dedicate for charity, then it is logical that maximums should apply as well. Further, if we are instructed that our families and our neighbors take priority when donating money, then it is reasonable to decide that our family also comes first when we choose to invest our time. Finding that balance requires an honest look inward, as well as a discussion with one’s Rov, and with one’s spouse and children.