By Rabbi Mordechai Levin
Published by the Omaha World Herald – February 2, 2013
I was recently drawn to an article about a 70-year-old man who died not too long ago. During his high school years, this man was diagnosed as being developmentally handicapped, and after a teacher told him that he was not capable of earning a diploma, he dropped out. Following the deaths of his parents and a kind uncle who helped him financially, he lived on his own in a small apartment.
This man transcended his circumstances by devoting more than half his life to helping others. Approaching people he met on the streets of New York, he would ask them for a few dollars to donate to charitable causes. Over the last 40 years he raised more than $300,000 for charities fighting muscular dystrophy and cancer, and helping disabled firefighters and families of those who died in the September 11 terror attacks. He became the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Collector of Bedford Street.” He explained his dedicated fund-raising by saying, “I love helping people, I do it because I get a good feeling.”
During his life, he probably encountered people who underestimated him because he was developmentally handicapped. Maybe we, too, are guilty of undervaluing other people for a variety of reasons. But by doing this, we lose something valuable. The Hebrew Bible reminds us that every person is made in the image of God. And the Mishnah teaches: “Do not disdain any person and do not underrate the importance of anything; for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is no thing that does not have its place.”
This gentleman described his actions with beautiful and resounding words – “I love helping people.””Do we exhibit the same generous spirit? When somebody needs assistance, do we see this as a nuisance, or are we eager to respond with open hearts and open arms? When we make a difference in the lives of others, we also make a difference in our own lives.
Let us live in such a way that we do not underestimate or misjudge people; that we treat others with respect, dignity and compassion; and that we appreciate the privilege of being able to help others.