Interview Talking Points
Q: Please describe your mitzvah project.
A: After my father died in December 2006, I was inspired to begin a mitzvah project to honor his memory. The idea was to perform 1000 mitzvahs or acts of kindness. I created a blog to record the mitzvahs. 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 in my life.
Q: So what exactly is a Mitzvah?
A: There are specific mitzvahs laid out in the Torah, 613 of them in fact. Some are positive; things you should do; like honor your mother and father. Some are negative; like do not kill. In modern times, people have used the word more interchangebly with any act of kindness, any giving of the self, be it one’s time or money. It’s basically a good deed – anything you do that requires that extra effort where you expect nothing in return. During my project, I included times when I sent a card or picked up the phone to thank someone or extended a compliment. These types of actions are simple and quick but they can have an impact on another person.
Q: When you first began this project, most of the mitzvahs you listed were pretty straightforward, things like visited an elderly neighbor, brought a cake to a sick friend, chased a lost dog through the neighborhood…But you also include things like replaced an empty toilet paper roll or picked up litter. How do you determine what to count?
A: I’d like to think that I have always tried to do good deeds; the difference after I began the project was that I was looking for things to do, ways to give back. I like to think that we can be successful just by trying, by encouraging people to be good. My children and my husband and I had these great discussions about the actions and whether something counted or not. Perhaps many of my mitzvahs weren’t one of the 613 official mitzvahs but they certainly were acts of kindness. These conversations, about what is kindness, what is giving really inspired my family and friends to think about the impact they also had on others.
Q: Many of your mitzvahs involve fundraising and/or charity. Is the monetary aspect of it very important?
A: Money will always be a powerful tool in doing mitzvahs. Every organization needs money to do their important work. While I noticed that money wasn’t the only important tool when it came to doing mitzvahs, it certainly does have its place where acts of kindness are concerned. In Judaism, we use the word tzedakah when we refer to giving money to charity. The wordtzedakah literally translates to righteousness or justice The idea of justice behind this giving connotes that all our wealth comes from a higher place, and we may not understand the basis of it. The fact that some of us have more and others have less doesn’t have any bearing on who is more deserving. Tzedakah is a requirement in Judaism.
Q: How did blogging about mitzvahs help you deal with your grief?
A: It was very humbling. 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. I realized that this mitzvah idea had many more benefits than what I intended when I started!
Q: How has this experience changed you?
A: I didn’t realize when I began the project that it was literally going to change the course of my life. After about a year of working towards my goal, a Rabbi suggested I consider writing a book. I did not consider myself a writer but took the suggestion seriously and began the steps towards writing a book. I wrote a book proposal (75 pages), attended a writing conference, pitched my idea, was rejected but also encouraged to work with a writing coach which I did and ten months later I resubmitted my book proposal to several publishers and agents and was accepted and given a book contract.
Q: What do you think your Dad would say about your 1,000 Mitzvahs project?
A: I am sure my dad would be honored that I took on such a project in his memory. Part of me believes that he has had a hand in this project. Perhaps he was the one who put the 1000 Mitzvahs project 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.
Q: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
A: I’d like to end with a wonderful quote from Maimonides, a twelfth century Jewish philosopher and scholar, 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 to Mishna, Avot 3:15)