Down the street from Hannaton, the closest junction actually, stands a beggar.
But often enough.
She’s covered from head to toe in a burqa (the enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions to cover their bodies when in public.)
And she stands with a newborn in her arms (even on the coldest days of winter) watching the traffic light to turn red.
To come tapping at your window and stare at you with her open palm
Until either you roll down your window and give her a shekel or two,
Or you ignore her long enough and she moves on to the next car.
I don’t know how much she’s earning from this “work”, but I can tell you she’s been standing at this junction for quite some time.
Almost like a part-time job.
Apparently the police has been called.
Allegedly she comes from the West Bank.
And here I am stuck on judging her.
“Why are you standing here, so close to my home? Why aren’t you standing somewhere farther away where I won’t see you?”
“Why are you holding a new born baby? Don’t you know that’s dangerous? Don’t you realize it’s unhealthy for the baby to be inhaling fumes from the vehicles? Do you honestly think you’re going to gain any compassion from me just because you’re holding a baby?”
“Why don’t you just look for a job, just like I am?”
“Why do you think you have the right to bother me?”
There I was again.
Stuck on judging.
Could I change my perspective?
I knew I had to.
Unless I wanted to continue “suffering”.
I really did.
Yet, I kept returning to the aforementioned judgments and couldn’t see the situation in any other light.
So, I decided to reach out to a few friends of mine with whom I am participating in a “mussar” group – (“a Jewish path of contemplative practices and exercises that have evolved over the past thousand years in which the individual focuses on one personality trait or characteristic in order to release the light of holiness that lives within each soul”.)
By chance, the week I reached out to my friends, we were working on “judging others favorably”.
My friends were quite empathic to the situation, stating “it can feel invasive or bothersome when people beg for money” and were also graciously willing to offer some insight or guidance to me, suggesting “it does make us face the horrible reality that there are people in this world, and even more so – so close to my home – that don’t have food or shelter.”
Jamie wrote, “For me, in these types of situations, I remind myself that we don’t know the person’s back story. G-d forbid any of these things… Maybe she has a serious illness and has been unable to work… maybe she has a husband who is ill and cannot work and she has to stay home…. maybe she has an abusive husband who forces her to beg… or maybe she is lazy and does not want to work…. Does it matter?”
Shoshana acknowledged that a person’s experiences, unknown to us, can push them to behave in a way that is difficult for us.
Then, she wisely cautioned, “It is imperative that the infant’s (relative) safety has been seen to and that the mother’s behavior isn’t deemed excessively risky by police or other officials. If there is any question regarding significant danger to the infant, it is important for people to know that they are each empowered – and responsible – to call – again and again if necessary, to the police or other local authorities.”
Edite shared that because of our email exchange (and being part of the mussar group), she’s learning how to be more aware of how often she judges and from that learning how to challenge her thoughts more often.
My friends shed light for me on this situation and helped me realized how difficult I have with the concept of “belief”. (Remember, the snow in Nazareth?)
Of course, my friends are right.
I don’t know this woman’s situations.
And the truth is, I don’t need to.
It doesn’t matter that I can’t see this woman’s home situation, I can still believe that she’s in an unfortunate enough of a situation to have to spend her days standing on a street corner, newborn baby in arms, begging for money.
My friends brought such light to this experience for me that my heart wanted to go find this woman. I wanted to run immediately to the junction say to her, “Look. I judged you. And, I’m sorry about that. I don’t know your circumstances, and the truth is I don’t really need to know. I believe you. I know you need help. Please take this money and be well.”
I really wanted to do that.
But I couldn’t.
Because she hasn’t shown up in quite a while.
And so, I haven’t had the chance to share my revelations with this woman.
And to wish her well.
Her disappearance almost made me feel sad, like an opportunity has been lost to bring love and light to the world.
But, I realize that truly nothing has been lost.
A new perspective.
And hope, for the next time I come face to face with her or any other beggar for that matter.
Where I won’t be a slave to judgment, but rather be free to just accept not knowing.