By Linda Cohen
My busy life as a mother, wife and entrepreneur came to a screeching halt after my father died in December 2006. My body and mind felt numb to my routine activities of daily life. I had no choice but to take time to contemplate the matters of life and death.
During my spiritual sabbatical, I was inspired to begin a Mitzvah Project to honor my father’s memory. The idea was to perform 1000 mitzvahs or acts of kindness. I created a blog to record the mitzvahs (www.1000mitzvahs.org). I had no idea when I started that I had stumbled onto a powerful combination for processing grief and that the project would prove to be such a transforming experience for me.
I didn’t realize when I began the project that it would take 2 ½ years. In fact, initially I figured I would do three mitzvahs a day so probably about one year to complete all 1000. Each day I would just go about my day and as different situations arose I would particpate in performing a mitzvah. I also volunteered and scheduled times to do special bigger mitzvah projects.
This project has been tremendously rewarding. Without realizing it, I plugged my grief into something positive, moving from sadness to an abundance of giving. It’s interesting – a number of scientific studies show that acts of kindness result in significant health benefits, both physical and mental, for those who perform them. So I guess this mitzvah idea has many more benefits than what I intended when I started!
My children, husband and I have also had wonderful discussions about the mitzvahs and whether something counted or not. These conversations, about what is kindness and what is giving, have really inspired them to think about the impact of kindness on others. As my daughter approaches her Bat Mitzvah, she is going to participate in a 13 Mitzvot Program at our synagogue where she will be essentially doing her own Mitzvah Project(s). I hope I have been a role model to her and that she will find her own fulfilling experience from giving of yourself.
I am sure my dad would be honored that I took on such a project in his memory. Part of me believes that he is the one who put this idea in my mind that night in January 2007. Sometimes I imagine he is smiling down at me and the valuable lessons this project has provided.
I’d like to end with a wonderful quote from Maimonides that I felt was so profound when I stumbled upon it midway through my project: Giving a thousand gold coins to one person and none to another does not allow the giver the full opportunity to acquire the quality of generosity not as full an opportunity to one who gives a thousand gold coins on a thousand different occasions, the repetition of the acts a thousand times secures for that individual the personal characteristic of generosity. (Commentary toMishna, Avot 3:15)