My grade chat erupted, pinging with devastating news; a classmate’s mother had passed. Without hesitation, I dashed to Eastern Parkway to escort a soul far too young. Walking home, sadness still present, I wondered what good standing out in the cold accomplished when my classmate was in a car and did not even know I came. This feeling dawned on me again when I restructured my itinerary to fly to a friend’s simchah. Naturally, as the host, she was busy the whole night through. Were my strenuous efforts necessary? What about that time I drove twenty minutes out of my way—forty minutes round trip—to ease a friend’s burden?
Yes, in these instances I shone momentarily as “the nice one,” but I can't help but admit that there was a niggling thought pestering in the back of my head. Were my efforts worth it? Over time, the question morphed into an existential crisis: Why do I even bother doing “the right thing”?!
In this backward, backstabbing society, we obviously don’t do good to have good done in return. Today, reciprocity is a rather scarce commodity. I find myself looking at people who self indulge and rationalize that they are the smart ones, and that it is smart to take care of one’s own needs even when it is selfish. But as it says in Chassidus, a wise person is one who chooses the king himself among all the glitz of royalty.
Amidst the falsehood of what glimmers, which is often not gold, there is a purity that is beyond. Beyond the fakers and shakers who act for reciprocity and praise, there are the do-gooders who ignore the glamour of the palace. They do for the king, for the essence of the matter. Not for pleasure, because although pleasure may be derived, life’s ultimate isn’t necessarily pleasurable. Not for acknowledgement or recognition, for truth in its pristine needs no explanation or calling. Rather, a wise person has the foresight to not want to look back with regrets. A wise person chooses the untainted and raw truth because it’s not about who is watching or what will be.
Sometimes it feels foolish or silly to do the right thing. That’s when it doesn’t feel pleasurable. It doesn’t sparkle like the palace’s outer chambers, or seem as suave as the ministers at their posts. The truth is pristine. What do you get for being good? Simply being good. Not an overtly better material life.
What do you get for being good? Simply being good. Not an overtly better material life.
When standing at a levaya unnoticed, celebrating with a friend, or being there for another, it can feel like you don’t get anything back. Because it’s not necessarily “pleasure” as defined in your terms. Instead, you get G-d’s essence—though sometimes, in this fake world, you might not want G-d. In this world, instead of diamonds, we seek cubic zirconia. Because sometimes, it’s the real gold that doesn’t glitter.
Chaya Silver is passionate about continuously learning and finding meaning in the mundane.