During the holiday season, we are reminded again and again to teach charity and goodwill to our children.  We are encouraged to take our kids shopping for toys to donate to holiday toy drives.  We are e-mailed about great opportunities for kids to help out in soup kitchens.  We are told to take our children to hospitals to sing to sick and lonely patients.
Children are the future, and it is made abundantly clear that we parents must impart in them the concepts of tzedakah and tikkun olam throughout the holiday season.
Thank G-d that season is over.
Children don’t need to learn about tzedakah.  They don’t need to be taught about tikkun olam.  They don’t need lessons on justice or fairness or goodwill.  Children are lessons about justice and fairness and goodwill.  Little walking (or crawling) embodiments of all that is good and right.
During the height of the Christmas shopping season this year, I schlepped baby Sivan in my arms as I attempted to make my way through a busy mall.  When I stopped to peer in a store window, I noticed Sivan’s reflection.  She was smiling – a beautiful, toothless baby smile – at someone just out of my line of sight.  When I turned to look, I saw that she was smiling at a homeless man.
I hadn’t noticed him.  Didn’t notice that he and I were sharing the same small space on this planet together.  But Sivan noticed, and she smiled.  And the man – having been ignored and marginalized and made invisible by throngs of adults for who knows how long – smiled back.
I give to charity.  Most of us give to charity.  Some of us give millions of dollars.  How many of us give a smile?
Tzedakah doesn’t mean charity.  It means justice.  It’s one of those cool linguistic Hebrew gems that help burnish my love for Judaism.  Justice isn’t giving a beggar a dollar and hoping he doesn’t shoot it up his arm.  Justice is improving our education system, our mental health system, our health care and safety nets to make sure that that beggar never has to beg.
And justice is also remembering not to call people “beggars.”  That guy is a man.  Maybe he was once a man who wore a suit and smelled of cologne and loved science fiction films, like Sivan’s dad.  Maybe he was a well-read man who could recite poetry or sing beautifully or was obsessed with history and loved sweets, like any of Sivan’s grandfathers.
Whatever his past, he is still a man.  A man who has a kind enough face to elicit a smile from a baby – because all a baby sees when she looks over is a man.
Seeing Sivan and the man exchange smiles, two incongruous thoughts crossed my mind at the same time.  The first, because I am an adult with a daughter and a heart hardening with age, was “Run.”  The second, because I am a parent, and I am trying to raise children  to keep their hearts from hardening with age was “Smile.”
I smiled.
I am usually so very busy teaching my kids to be good and loving that I wouldn’t have ever noticed the man. But here I was smiling at him because there Sivan was smiling at him. And he smiled back.
Teach our kids tzedakah? We’d all be better off if they taught us.


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