When I was growing up, my father often brought unusual guests to our Shabbat table. My sisters and I referred to one of these guests as “Mr. Mna Mna.” He would guzzle down my mother’s delicacies, spilling some on our pristine white tablecloth. When the piping hot chicken soup was served, he’d slurp it, making loud “mna, mna” noises—and thus our nickname.
I don’t remember my father hearing us call “Mr. Mna Mna” by this name; he wouldn’t have been pleased. But I do remember my father according him the greatest respect, sitting him at his side and kindly offering him food first. As a child I wondered if my father hadn’t noticed the man’s strange behavior, but I couldn’t believe that he hadn’t smelled his foul body odor.
No matter; week after week, Mr. Mna Mna returned.
As I grew older, I became aware that Mr. Mna Mna was not unique to my family.
Look around and you will see Mr. and Mrs. Mna Mnas in Jewish communities the world over. They are invited for a nourishing meal, given fresh clothing or just a listening ear—whatever kindness the hour calls for.
I have a friend with a big heart who lives in a small house. She is constantly rearranging her (willing!) children, moving them out of their bedrooms to sleep the lonely souls that end up on her doorstep. Another friend, a successful businesswoman, clears her calendar once a week to visit lonely elders. She says she does it for herself, that it brings her joy. Another friend is training for a marathon to raise money for children with terminal illness, while another, a working mother, spends her Sundays at a center for special-needs children.
None of them consider their actions special.
We often notice—and focus on—the faults in our communities. This is important because in order to improve, we cannot be blind to our culpabilities. But it is also worthwhile to acknowledge all the good that is being done—all the hearts that are so big, all the kindness that abounds.
Ever ask someone who returned to their Jewish heritage what motivated them? Rather than deep philosophical and theological responses, I’ve often heard about simple-to-goodness deeds. Witnessing the love, care and deep pockets of a Jewish community made them want to be a part of whatever religion and peoplehood was causing this.
In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the king of Moab, summons the Jew-hating prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel. Instead he ends up extolling their virtues, among which he declares: “For from their beginning, I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills. . . . How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel!”
Indeed! Wishing you all a week exploding with kindness!