By Karen Berg.
I've always loved Victor Hugo's Les Miserables because in it, the story's hero is redeemed and restored by one powerful, transformative act of kindness.
The main character in the book is Jean Valjean, a convict who was unjustly imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to give to his starving sister.
In the opening scene, Valjean, recently paroled and dubbed as an outcast by society, is taken in by Bishop Myriel, a generous and hospitable host about whom the narrator writes --
"The sadness which reigned everywhere was but an excuse for unfailing kindness."
Valjean, who is fearful, bitter, and pretty much hopeless about life, steals silver from the kind Bishop before taking off into the night. Soon enough he is caught by the police who bring him back to the Bishop to return the stolen goods. But when the police tell the Bishop they have found the silver in Valjean's bag, the Bishop tells the police that he had gifted them to Valjean. He then goes on to scold Valjean for not taking the silver candlesticks also.
When the police leave, the Bishop tells Valjean to use the goods to become a good and honorable man. And it is in this moment of kindness for no reason, that Jean Valjean's heart turns towards the Light. For years, he had suffered in anger and bitterness from being put away in prison for so long. Now, in this scene, his faith is restored. A stream of forgiveness melts his darkness. The bishop's kindness pierces the armor around his heart, and his spirit is awakened. Throughout the book you see how this one transformative situation goes on to affect and transform many more people for the better.
Sometimes we think there is no way to turn around a situation. It's been too long, we may have suffered an injustice, or we may feel the right to hold onto our anger and bitterness. Sometimes we fall into an illusion of hopelessness, forgetting that the all-inclusive, all-encompasing Light of the Creator is with us in each and every circumstance. But this story shows that in one instant, a single act of kindness, of grace, can turn everything around. What's more is that one of us has the power to be that healing force of kindness for someone else.
This week, students of the Kabbalah Centres will gather in Sukkahs around the world to draw this energy of mercy, kindness, and love for all the nations of the world. Sukkot is a cosmic opening through which this love will flow down for us like a river that can extinguish the selfishness and pain that burns within humankind.
May our hearts be opened so that we can be transformed by it, so we can ripple it outwards towards the world and share it for all of humankind in the year to come.