It’s a shivah house. The mourners are seated comfortably in their low chairs while friends and families file past in condolence, when one well-meaning person will stop for a few seconds, lean over and offer; “If you need anything at all, just call me.”

What nonsense! What does that actually mean? You’re just making yourself feel better, not helping them any. What is the likelihood that the object of your patronizing pity will actually ring you up and request an invitation for a Seder or a Shabbat meal? What are the chances What is the likelihood that the object of your patronizing pity will actually ring you up and request an invitation for a Seder or Shabbat meal?that they’ll be calling anytime soon to ask for a loan until the insurance money comes through? You will never find out how desperately they need a babysitter, home handyman or tutor, unless you call them first.

If you really want to help, you’ve got to make the first move, and often the second and third move too. Sitting there waiting for the phone to ring, satisfied with yourself for offering, might bring you warm and fuzzy feelings, but doesn’t do anything for the other person. There is a mitzvah in the Torah to “love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), and you don’t get points for sympathizing while sitting at home.

There is a famous phrase, “Torah, unaccompanied by work, will be wasted” (Avot 2:2), which is generally understood to mean that even scholars must hold down a day job and contribute to society. However, the Baal Shem Tov interpreted the word “work” as a reference to acts of kindness and compassion. In his reading, it is not enough for religious people to just to sit home and sermonize; they’ve got to get out and actually practically help people too.

Note, however, the use of the word “work,” with all its connotations of To succeed at work, you’ve got to, money-making and the daily struggle to earn a living. No one would expect a business to prosper if the founders just sat back and waited for customers to find them. To succeed at work, you’ve got to hustle. Advertising your ability to help is a start, but success is predicated on reaching out to potential customers, over and over again, and ultimately meeting their needs.

To be a real Jew is to reach out to help others. Sympathy is nice, but that’s just the start of a long journey. The only way to find out what people need is through hard work and determination.

It is never enough to mutter a few trite words and then relinquish the moment to the next person in line. Keep on calling, keep on offering, keep on reaching out, and eventually you will become the voice of real comfort and the true hand of friendship that sustains people in their time of need.