Update: Welcoming New Habits

Assembling the Shelves
Assembling the Shelves

I took the leap into my new home with two projects in mind:

1. Radical Hospitality – I’m going to “do Jewish” here regularly and often, with many different people. That includes Shabbat afternoon hang-outs, Shabbat dinners, and other celebrations or ordinary times.

2. Asking for and accepting help – My body doesn’t allow me to play the Lone Ranger anymore, doing everything for myself. I tried dealing with that by isolating a lot, and the result was that I lived in a half-moved-into apartment for five years. Now I’m going to do it differently: asking for help, accepting help, being gracious and when I can, combining that with being Jewishly hospitable.

Hospitality, so far, has begun with a bang. I think I’ve had more guests in my house in the past 12 days than I had in the previous 3 years. Most of it was holiday related, and not at all routine, but I am not a hermit anymore. This is good. Also, I’m enjoying it. I like having people over. I like doing Jewish with old and new friends.

Asking for and accepting help has also been a success, but that one is really giving me a spiritual workout. Two of my students and one other friend were here Saturday night, assembling bookshelves for me. I am so grateful to them – my back and knees won’t permit me to do any of the stuff they were doing – but oh my goodness, I am uncomfortable watching people do things for me! The alternative, though, is (1) do without or (2) hire people. For years now I have worked with a combination of those two, and frankly it was not life-enhancing, especially since after a while of muddling through, I didn’t want to have anyone in, friend or hired, because of the clutter.  So I am faced with a choice: learn to accept the goodness of others, or be isolated.

So last night I accepted the generosity of three people who did not owe me anything, and it didn’t kill me. No one is going to hold it over my head, or take it out somehow later. It’s OK. And I look forward to giving back with things I have to give: Jewish learning, food, warmth, and so on. I am not “less” for needing their help, nor am I in some sort of mysterious trouble for accepting it.

Kol Yisrael aravim zeh l’zeh: “All Jews are responsible for one another.” I have always taken that as a challenge to look for others that I can help. Being on the giving side has become easy for me. Being on the receiving side is a new lesson to learn.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

8 thoughts on “Update: Welcoming New Habits”

  1. Thanks for posting this! Giving is easy, receiving is so damn hard! A friend helped me out and insisted that I not pay for gas or anything and I resisted heartily. That is until he said, “a friend told me I was supported accept help graciously…” Oops, hoist on my own petard! This is going to take practice, but I am determined to master this new skill.

  2. I receive your mailings daily but, I admit, don’t always make the time to read them. Today, I stopped what I was doing to make the time and, as often happens, found your comments unbelievably relevant! I too can no longer be the Lone Ranger and so my Post-Sandy final steps had gone undone. The big work was done because others (painters, construction and carpet guys) were responsible. Now what remains is the “easy stuff” – things I think I should be able to do but know I cannot. This weekend I finally decided I would have to ask for help. Thank you for making this step so much easier!

    1. PJB, I’m so glad that this was useful to you. I was young and much stronger when my household was recovering from the 1989 earthquake, but I remember how traumatic the recovery process was for all of us: the earthquake itself was nothing to the 2 years of consultants, contractors, paperwork, and so on! And yes, after the “big stuff” was done, what was left was exhausting. When our bodies are not so young and/or strong, then asking for help is the only way back from the disaster. I wish you every strength in asking for help; I hope that your requests are met with kindness and help. Let me know how it goes, OK?

  3. Thanks, Dawn! Jewish tradition teaches us to be especially careful of the dignity of those who need to receive our help, because it recognizes that they are vulnerable. Maimonides wrote at length on this in Matenot Aniyim, his account of the halakhah of tzedakah [charitable giving.]

    There’s nothing quite like being on the receiving end of help, however, to educate one about the importance of sensitivity.

  4. Dear Rabbi;

    Would you ever consider holding classes at your house. For example, instead of having the classes at Congregation Beth El in a classroom, which I consider a formal environment you would have it at your house, which to me is a more casual environment and better open to learning.


    Paul Albert

    1. Paul, funny you should ask that! I’m looking forward to offering classes at home at some point in the near future. They’ll be advertised in my classes, since I think it would be prudent to limit enrollment to students I already know.

  5. Dear Rabbi,
    My question is off topic but really need information, I just bought a set of Babylon Talmud in English, but don’t know how or where to begin studying.

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