What Would You Do?

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Would you take the shoes off your feet and give them to a barefoot, homeless person?
That is what Rabbi Gabriel Benayon, who serves as a Chabad Rabbi in Panama City, Panama, did when visiting in New York this past month for the annual conference of Chabad rabbis.
You can actually see the entire exchange here because a fellow subway traveler filmed it on their phone.
When asked why he did it by the person filming, he patiently explained in Spanish that he had just bought a new pair of sneakers and thought to himself, why do I have new shoes while this man is barefoot? So I gave him my shoes [and they actually fit the homeless man], and put on my new sneakers. We must all try to be alert to what we can do good for others because it’s our job to help other people.
This story is a wonderful example of Kiddush Hashem, a religious or moral act that causes others to reverence God. Many people erroneously think Kiddush Hashem only relates to martyrdom, or giving up one’s life, rather than violate a key Jewish prohibition like idolatry, murder or certain acts of unchastity.
In fact, any action by a Jew that brings honor, respect, and glory to God is considered to be Kiddush Hashem or sanctification of G!d’s name. In Rabbinic times, when Shimon ben Shetaḥ bought an ass from an Arab, the rabbi’s servants were delighted to find a jewel hanging from its neck that the owner had forgotten was in its fur. However, the rabbi at once returned the gem to its owner, who cried out, "Blessed be the God of the Jews who renders His people so scrupulous in their dealings with other men." (TJ, BM., 2:5, 8c)
When people know you are a Jew and you act ethically, you cause them to witness how G!d’s influence on you leads to goodness in the world. And tragically, the opposite. If you act unethically, you cause others to witness how Jews lack G!d’s influence and do not bring goodness into the world.
Interestingly, the word “martyr” is derived from the Greek word for ‘witness,’ because it can mean one who endures persecution (leading to death) for the sake of their religious witness (how they profess their religion).
Rabbi Benayon’s act of hessed, of great kindness, reminds me of the phrase that Yaakov/ Jacob declared to his brother Eisav/ Esau in this week’s parsha, Vayishlah:

י וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב, אַל-נָא אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ, וְלָקַחְתָּ מִנְחָתִי, מִיָּדִי: כִּי עַל-כֵּן רָאִיתִי פָנֶיךָ, כִּרְאֹת פְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים--וַתִּרְצֵנִי.

10 And Jacob said: “No, I pray you; if you would do me this favor, accept from me this gift; for to see your face is like seeing the face of G!D, and you have received me favorably.

יא קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּרְכָתִי אֲשֶׁר הֻבָאת לָךְ, כִּי-חַנַּנִי אֱלֹהִים וְכִי יֶשׁ-לִי-כֹל; וַיִּפְצַר-בּוֹ, וַיִּקָּח.

11 Please accept my present which has been brought to you, for G!D has favored me and I have plenty.” And when he [Yaakov] urged him, he [Eisav] accepted.

Notice how Rabbi Benayon, while under very different circumstances, uttered what Yaakov/ Jacob said thousands of years ago: ‘You are a homeless person and to see you is like seeing the face of G!D; you are that holy! I have been blessed in my life and I have plenty, so please let me give this to you.’
Would that all of us were as thoughtful and kind as Rabbi Benayon, who spontaneously took the shoes off his own feet so that a barefoot, homeless man could attain the dignity of which he was worthy and the protection against the cold of which he was in need!

Shabbat Shalom