Wiping Out Strict Justice And Choosing Kindness Instead
Here’s what happened: An old friend invited my family to spend a three day holiday at her house. That meant that she was hosting and feeding all six of us – in addition to her own large family – for over seventy-two hours. My kids played with her kids’ toys and read her kids’ books. And feeding a family of six over the course of three days means that people will be eating in between meals and getting your home dirtier than it would have gotten otherwise – even if they try to be conscientious – which, of course, we tried to be.
Not only is this friend super hospitable, she’s also more laid back than I am. So when her kids grabbed a package of diaper wipes and started “cleaning” the glass doors leading out to the deck with them, she just laughed as she watched. “It keeps them so busy,” she smiled. I did not find this diaper wipe game as amusing as she did. There was a big anti-wasting policy in my house growing up, and witnessing such wastefulness made me very uncomfortable. We had forgotten about the mitzvos of Shabbos and kosher as our family assimilated into American culture, but bal tashchis – the “do not waste” mitzvah – was something we were always VERY religious about.
But it wasn’t my house and they weren’t my wipes, so I kept my mouth shut and silently squirmed. But then later that day, my friend needed to change her baby’s diaper, and she took our wipes which we had left on the counter, thinking they were hers. (We use the same brand.) As I saw her taking our wipes, I was instantly enraged (thankfully, only in my head.) “Those aren’t your wipes!” I thought to myself, “You let your kids waste your wipes. It isn’t right to start taking other non-wipe-wasting people’s wipes just because you let your kids waste your wipes, you wipes-waster!”
And then I stopped myself, disgusted by my knee jerk reaction. “What is your problem, lady?” the voice inside my head asked. “Here, this friend has taken us in so graciously and given us everything for three days, and you’re getting bent out of shape over a few diaper wipes? What’s wrong with you?” What was it that was bothering me so much, I wondered.
As I thought about it, I realized that it was a sense of justice that I was getting hung up on. If my friend had used her wipes responsibly, but was low on them and needed to borrow some, I would have given them to her in a heartbeat – I’m more than happy to share with a person in need. But because she had treated her wipes so carelessly (in my opinion), it did not seem fair that she be rewarded with more.
But I decided in that moment that I didn’t want to be that person. The person who chooses strict justice over kindness. The person who prefers judgment to mercy – even for something as petty as diaper wipes. That’s not how I want people to treat me. It’s not how I want God to treat me either. And we are taught that when we do something lifnim m’shuras hadin (above the letter of the law) when dealing with another person, God too will go above and beyond in how He deals with us, treating us more kindly than we deserve.
I realized that I didn’t just need to open my mind, I also needed to open my wipes container, so I resolved that I would switch up our package of wipes so she’d be left with the bigger pack, not because I owed them to her, but because I wanted to turn my realization into a tangible action. May we all choose kindness over strict justice when dealing with others and may we merit for God to do the same with us.