As I was eating breakfast Thursday morning, I took out an old vegetarian cookbook to see if there was some interesting recipe to spice up my regular Shabbat menu. I've taken to experimenting with new salads, and I thought this cookbook might have a good idea. The book fell open up to the introduction, so I began skimming through it as I munched on my breakfast. It was a fascinating little history of how this woman had turned from a hopeful artist, writer and musician into a cookbook writer.

She had found satisfaction in helping others Originally, she had hoped to have her paintings hanging in the Met, or her novels becoming bestsellers, but had ended up writing cookbooks read by thousands. But it wasn't the fame or fortune that brought her happiness. At the end of her introduction/personal history, she summed up a thought that rings true for humanity. She concluded that "to be of use, to have the opportunity to impart information and skills that serve to enrich people's daily lives – this is what matters most to me." Simply put, she had found satisfaction in helping others.

When all is said and done, isn't that what matters most to all of us? It's not the money or the renown that bring contentment. People want to affect others, to influence them, and just to make their lives a little easier.

My friend Tova, a fellow writer, called me the other day to let me in on some good news. "I had a literary triumph," she told me, with a giggle in her voice.

"Let's hear," I responded cheerfully, waiting to hear which magazine had accepted her latest.

But the success she wanted to share was not about an appearance in a periodical. Instead, she went on to tell me how her daughter-in-law had been complaining that her daughter refused to eat fruit. And the little girl kept coming down with colds. Tova suggested that her daughter-in-law tell her child a story about someone who didn't want to eat fruit and kept having to stay home from nursery school, because of her ailments. Knowing that Tova is a better writer than she, the young mother asked her if she would write that story and she (the young mother) would read it to her daughter. Tova happily accepted and whipped out a fast story about a little duck who wouldn't eat fruit…She e-mailed it to her daughter-in-law.

This was her literary triumph The next day Tova got a call from her daughter-in-law with good news. After hearing the story, her little girl agreed to eat three tiny slivers of a tangerine! Tova's day was made.

This was her literary triumph. Not an article accepted in a well-read newspaper. Not a whopping royalty check in the mail. Tova's story had helped her little granddaughter half-way across the world to enter into the world of fruits. And hopefully, her health will improve.

As a mother, I've had my own share of personal triumphs. Like the time my young daughter came home from a friend and told me that her friend had accidentally slammed a window on my daughter's finger. After sympathizing with her, I told her that her friend must have felt so bad. My daughter confided that she didn't tell her friend what had happened, because she didn't want her to feel bad.

I have to say I was very proud of my daughter, but I was also filled with a feeling of satisfaction. Consideration and sensitivity are two virtues I try hard to instill in my kids. And my daughter showed me that my efforts were not for naught.

My friend Sara used to work at Hebrew University. She organized classes on Jewish thought, Shabbatons, challah-baking, and other activities to introduce Jewish students from abroad to a deeper look at their heritage.

That was the nicest thing I ever saw anyone do One day she was standing in the lobby of the building for overseas students, publicizing one of her upcoming activities. At the time, there were student body elections for the overseas students. It seemed to be a hot election, with two main alternatives for president, a young man vs. a young woman. Unexpectedly, Sara bore witness to an upsetting quarrel between the two. As she stood there behind her table, Mr. Would-Be President taped a campaign sign right over the sign of Ms. Would-Be, covering it completely. What he didn't realize was that his opponent was on the other side of the lobby, looking. Needless to say, a very vocal fight broke out right there in the middle of the hubbub, with her demanding he remove the sign, and him refusing. Not wanting to lower herself to taking it off, she told him he better take it down, and off she went in a huff. He just walked away.

Sara knew that the right thing to do was to take off his sign and move it to the side. So she did it herself. This way, she figured that Ms. Would-Be would come back and see the problem had been corrected and would think that Mr. Would-Be had done it, thus putting out some of the coals of contention.

Later that morning, Ms. Would-Be approached Sara, who assumed she was interested in information on the upcoming program Sara was organizing. But Ms. Would-Be surprised her.

"I saw what you did before," she told Sara.

Sara wasn't sure how to respond, but Ms. Would-Be beat her to it.

"That was the nicest thing I ever saw anyone do," she told Sara. Then she turned around and walked away, to hang up more signs.

Thinking back to that short interchange, Sara was left with a feeling of satisfaction that she still carries with her today, more than ten years later.

So much of Judaism is based on the importance of giving. There are numerous mitzvos that are classified as bein adom lechaveiro, literally "between a person and his friend," i.e. interpersonal. From giving charity and loans to helping even one's enemy to reload his fallen donkey, the Torah requires us to think beyond ourselves and help out those around us. The number one mitzvah that sums up the importance of altruism is "Love your neighbor as yourself." The root of the word "ahava" (love) is "hav" – to give. Giving requires love, but it also develops love. In fact, Torah scholars have taught that if someone wants to increase his/her love for another, the secret is to give. That is one of the many reasons why parents love their children so much. All that parental giving creates tremendous love for the recipient. So if you want to love someone more, give to him, and soon those loving feelings will follow. By doing acts of kindness, you are fulfilling the mitzvah of "Love your neighbor as yourself," since your actions have increased love between you and the other.

As we see from the stories above, giving does not necessarily mean providing physical items. It could mean a good word, a thoughtful note, a cheery phone call, or some helpful advice. And the giving could be something big or quite small.

Giving could be something quite small When my daughter came home from nursery school and had a huge tantrum, not for anything in particular, just from her exhausting day, I held her on my lap and let her cry. I made a few sympathetic sounds, but that was about it. I didn't feel annoyed that she was wasting my time or guilty that maybe nursery school is too much for her. I just reminded myself that by being there for her to cry on, I was doing an act of giving. Turning this small act into a heroic one gave me the strength to get through a period of almost daily meltdowns.

Everyone has their little stories. It's not the glory that fills up the soul with contentment. It's those small unassuming acts we perform, the consideration and sensitivity to make someone's day just a little bit better — that make a person feel he has accomplished something. After all, people are made in G‑d's image, and G‑d loves to give. So when people give of themselves for others, they are tapping into their own G‑dliness. And that makes them feel like their lives are worth living.