Wiping Out Strict Justice And Choosing Kindness Instead

Wiping Out Strict Justice
The following story is a true story about diaper wipes. But is a story ever just about diaper wipes? Hopefully not.

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.

Nechemya Weberman's Sentencing: Why Orthodox Jews Shouldn't Stay Silent
New Year's Resolutions and Stinky Pantries

Comments

comments

You May Also Like

Allison About Allison

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. Amen, sister.

  2. I am dealing with a friend who got herpes, and wants me to continue to drop my kid off, without offering any reassurances of special caution, claiming it is simply medical fact it cannot be transmitted and in fact making me feel that I am out of line to want to explore this and make sure my daughter is safe. Mostly I just wanted her to overprotect my daughter like I do which clearly she is not about to do. But I read your note and feel…perhaps I would have done better with a wipes dilemma.
    Would g-d be ok if I wanted to become orthodox just to make my social dramas be about wipes?
    I hope you know that I am not insinuating that orthodox have nothing to deal with! I know all lifestlyes have tsores and to choose true jewish life certainly not less so! I am speaking more to…what more than wipes it can be. And…still need kindness over strictness somehow.

    • Thanks for your comment, Flora. Yes – there are bigger challenges than diaper wipes in my life! But I don’t think your situation is about kindness vs. judgment – it’s about safety. That’s a different category all together. And we’re supposed to guard our lives. So while it’s certainly a sticky situation, I don’t think you should be feeling guilty about protecting your daughter. Speak to a doctor. Educate yourself about the issue. This is a different situation.

  3. I don’t mean to be rude or disrespectful in correcting you, the article was wonderful and very well-written, but if I am not wrong, I believe it is just Bal tashchis, as in do not waste, rather than ba’al.
    Sorry, I’m just a grammar-freak when it comes to both Hebrew and English.

    I am a huge fan and love your writing and videos. You make my emuna and dedication to Orthodox Judaism only stronger and more enriched. You are definitely one of my role models as someone involved (and good at) Jewish outreach.
    Thank you,
    Esty

    • Thank you! People correct my English grammar all the time and that’s my first language. My Hebrew is definitely worse. And anyway, in cases like this, I just play the ba’al teshuvah (returnee to observance) card! 😉 Changing it now!

  4. I love this article!You come up with amazing articles and stories based on the simplest of things…and so easy to understand and comprehend.

  5. Yes, it does sound wasteful but I would hope that you talked to your friend before you wrote this. After reading this they might feel a little hurt you didn’t talk to them first.

    • Thanks for your concern, Shirley, but a) this happened a long time ago – I doubt she’d even remember b) I changed some of the details and c) this friend does not go online. I would not have posted something that would embarrass someone else.

  6. In the larger sense of “do not waste,” it was probably more expensive / wasteful to host a family of six (in terms of meals/ utilities/ space) than her kids wasting some wipes. Did you get them a gift that would equal what you took? If not, she might have been feeling resentful of you and felt entitled to take your wipes as payment, and she might have been right!

    I’m not sure I get the point about “justice.” I feel like the measurement mechanism in your mind is off– you traded some wipes for a three-day, all expenses paid vacation for a family of six. This is an example of the great generosity of g-d and how He is showering abundance on you.

    Anyhow, good for you for leaving her with the larger package of wipes. I am the exact same way (with a strict “no waste” policy), but I have to remind myself when I’m around other people that there is more than what I can measure or count, so I do the best I can for me, then allow g-d’s goodness to show itself, even if the method makes me uncomfortable.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lauren, but there is nothing wasteful about the mitzvah of “hachnasis orchim” – bringing guests into your home. It’s a mitzvah that my family greatly enjoys and practices regularly and it’s a mitzvah that this friend of mine has mastered! She was definitely not feeling resentful of my family being there – she is a tremendously giving person and I am 100% certain that she simply confused our package of wipes for hers. We brought them a gift (as we always bring hosts) but no, it did not equal what the host spent on having us as guests.

      I recognize how much she gave us (and has given my family over the years) – that’s why I prefaced the story with that information. The point that I was trying to make about justice is that I have no problem giving to people – I enjoy giving. The justice thing is that I caught myself playing judge in that moment, deciding who is or isn’t worthy of more wipes b/c of how she treated them.

      That’s the part of me that I needed to overcome. It’s not about trading what she gave us for some wipes, it’s about me forcing myself to not decide what other people deserve. That’s God’s job, not mine!

Speak Your Mind

*

More on Jew in the City