Today was Mitzvah Day at out Temple. Mitzvah is usually translated as a good deed, and many people are familiar with it in the context of Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the event where a Jewish young man or young lady turns 13, (or for girls, sometimes 12), and becomes an adult in the Jewish world. Mitzvah day is an annual event where our Temple joins with several churches in the area to do a variety of social action projects around town.
The project I was involved in was making blankets for Project Linus. The blankets are taken to the local children's hospital where sick children can choose a blanket to have with them in the hospital and then to take home with them. In my next post, I will give you the 'recipe' (instructions) for the blankets. In the same large room was an assembly line packing boxes of gifts for our troops overseas, and another group making cards and writing letters to send with the boxes. My husband was at a local park picking up trash. Other projects included gardening and landscaping at a battered women's shelter, and organizing donations at the local food bank. There were about 12 different projects. Everyone could choose which project(s) to get involved in.
I was talking with someone who had been part of the assembly line with her young son who suggested that sending packages to our troops should be done more than once each year. A few weeks ago we had the Confirmation service for our 10th graders. They each got a chance to speak for a few minutes on what they had learned, and most of them talked about the importance of doing Mitzvot (plural of Mitzvah), and that they try to do at least one every day.
Our young people are right. Good deeds are not a once per year event. They should take place every day. I have mentioned before that I like to do 'random acts of kindness". I do simple things like holding doors, pulling out a shopping cart and giving it to the person who walked into the store behind me, etc. Doing these things don't take much effort on my part, but they make both me and the other person feel good. Here is an article in about.com which talks about how helping others helps build self esteem and lowers stress. In an article published by Western Governors University, several studies are cited on the benefits of volunteerism. One of the studies found that volunteerism decreased pain, depression and disability in patients with chronic pain. Several months later, the researchers found that they continued to benefit.
What can you do for others? This may be a difficult question, when taking care of your own needs may be hard enough. It doesn't have to be a big project. Can you read to children at a school or library? Maybe get a box of strawberries for your neighbor while you are at the grocery store. What about making a phone call or writing a letter that the recipient will appreciate? The possibilities are endless, and the benefits are as well.