The Neighbor’s Mail Box by Prof. Gerald August

Dec 10th, 2010 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Relationships
Recently in Brooklyn, on the way to dinner with my friend Paula, we passed a house three doors from her place. She said to me, “Remind me when we come home to write on my to-do list for tomorrow to put my phone number in that person’s mailbox. A couple of days ago an ambulance came to her house and took her to the hospital. She is an old lady and lives alone. If something happens again she will be able to call me.”

Why didn’t Paula ask her neighbor if she would like the phone number? I think the answer contains an insight into human nature. Many people like to feel independent. So if Paula had asked, the response might have been, “Thank you, but I’m fine.”

Some people don’t like to feel dependent. Yet, when it comes to giving, they are happy to do so. Taking is a different story. It infringes on their feeling of independence and can seem like an imposition.

But a better way to think would be to realize that taking and giving are both sides of the same coin. A balanced relationship. And if you have trouble with the word, “take, “substitute the word “share.” A “give and let give” dynamic. This is not dependence, but interdependence.

Last year I had a bad flu and was in bed for three days. I live alone and like to feel independent. So I stupidly dragged myself outside to go shopping. When I later told my friend Arleen, she got annoyed and said “Why didn’t you call me? I would have gone shopping for you.” I sheepishly replied, “I guess I didn’t want to bother any of my friends”. But then she gave me a much-needed reprimand. “Your friends want to know if you are sick. You must tell them. They want to help you. Let them. You have helped them and other people. Don’t be so selfish!”

That evening in Brooklyn, Paula was correct. She did not give her neighbor an opportunity to say no. Proactively, she went over the next day and put a letter in the mailbox with her phone number. Maybe the neighbor said to herself, “I will not use it.” If the time ever comes, G-d forbid that she needs to, I hope she will.

Sometimes permission is not required to do a good deed.

John Milton, the great English poet, wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” In this case, Paula served by giving her number. And I’m sure she’ll be happy to help, no matter how long the wait.