Last week, I was in New York for a conference sponsored by the Covenant Foundation and for work related to the Florence Melton Adult Mini School. On Thursday, I had a last minute change of schedule and found myself with an unexpected free hour. Normally, I would have tried to quickly cram another meeting in but I was outside and, despite the cold, decided to take a break and sit in Central Park. It was freezing cold and I could barely feel my fingers to write. But I sat and enjoyed the remarkable quiet of the park, the beauty of the trees - each one appearing hand painted by God, each leaf personally placed by the Divine Hand. New York is not a place to expect small acts of humanity but in the span of ten minutes, I witnessed two of them.
Walking in to the park, I stopped at a vendor to by some nuts, a small snack to tide me over until lunch. The bag cost two dollars. Inadvertently, I gave the man a dollar bill and a five. He could easily have just taken the money as extra profit but he looked at me and said, “Sir, I think you meant to give me another dollar bill” as he passed the five dollar bill back. He smiled. I was impressed by his honesty.
In the park, a young couple was standing in front of the lake trying to take a picture of themselves. Stretching an arm out to an almost uncomfortable length, the man was about to snap the picture when a passerby said, “Let me take that picture for you.” Again, in New York, he could just as easily have kept his head down and kept moving but he didn’t. He stopped and did a nice thing for someone else.
I was thinking about both of these incidents while listening to the Torah reading this past Shabbat. The generation of Noah was described as being completely corrupt, evil, thinking of doing wrong all the time. The midrash describes a time of narcissism, of corruption, of wickedness, big-time awful stuff. But I often find myself wondering if instead of the big acts of evil, what brought about the destruction of the world was the constant small wrongs of living that when added up brought the world at that time to a place where repair was no longer an option - wholesale re-creation was required.
Getting ready to go to the ballot box tomorrow morning, I find myself thinking about those two small acts of humanity in the park, completely minor, and the general lack of dignity of discourse that has characterized this election season. When I press the touch screen to vote tomorrow morning, I feel driven to vote for a return to dignity - dignity of humanity, of discourse, of the honor of what being an American is about. Who I will vote for is my own business, but I hope that we will all feel - regardless of how we vote - that we are voting for a country where the small acts of dignity, of humanity, of hope will far outweigh all the small - and not so small - indignities, acts of anger, of ill-will that are committed daily. That we will vote to step away from the generation of Noah and take a step toward the World to Come.
Good luck. Now, go vote.