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The Greatest Thing in the World

Men at Western Wall

The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.
The LORD is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made. — Psalm 145:8–9

A note to our readers: Beginning at sundown today, the celebration of Sukkot, one of the most joyous celebrations on the Jewish calendar, begins. Throughout this week, our reflections will be tied to this biblically mandated holiday. As this is a non-working holiday for observant Jews, these devotions were prepared for you in advance.

The Jewish sages teach that we are obligated to imitate God as much as possible. That being the case, Psalm 145 serves as a great “curriculum” for learning how to be God-like. With its acrostic structure spanning the entire Hebrew alphabet, we have a study guide for how to be like God from A to Z! Every verse sings out God’s praises and describes His holy characteristics.

Let’s focus a moment on verses 8–9, which speak about God’s graciousness. Just as God is kind to all people, we also have to strive to be that way. I think many people find this challenging because they believe that by being selfless, they lose something. By being selfish, we think that we will gain more. However, the opposite is true. When we give to others, we get more out of life, not less.

Shlomo Carlebach, a renowned rabbi, shared this powerful story about a great rabbi in Poland who perished during the Holocaust. This particular rabbi focused on children and ran an amazing school. All his life, Rabbi Carlebach had wanted to meet one of those children. It was only in his later years that Rabbi Carlebach met an old hunched over man sweeping the streets of Tel Aviv and discovered that this man was once a student of the holy teacher.

“Please share with me something that you learned from the rabbi!” Rabbi Carlebach begged. After some coaxing, the man replied, “This is what the rabbi said to us over and over again: ‘The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor!’”

The old man continued, “When I was in Auschwitz, I wanted to end it all and kill myself. But then I would hear my rabbi’s voice say, ‘The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor!’ Do you know how many favors you can do in Auschwitz at night? People are lying on the floor crying. I would walk from one person to the other and ask, ‘Why are you crying?’ I would listen, hold their hands and cry with them. Then I would walk to the next person. And it would give me strength for another day.” 

The man continued, “I’m here in Tel Aviv and I have no one in the world. Sometimes I’m at my end, but then I hear my rabbi’s voice saying, ‘The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.’ Do you know how many favors you can do on the streets of the world?”

Friends, today and every day, do someone else a favor. It truly is the greatest thing in the world!

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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