Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” {Matthew 22: 37-40 (NLT)]

florida cooter laying eggsIn Hebrew, mitzvah means command and the mitzvoth are the 613 commandments that came from God in the Old Testament. In Reformed Judaism (and Yiddish), mitzvah has come to mean “good deed.” In actuality, I’m sure any good deed falls somewhere within one of those 613 original commands! Moreover, isn’t every good deed a way to connect with God and express both our love for Him and for our neighbor?

Recently, we did what my Jewish friends would call a “mitzvah.” As my husband and I started out on the boardwalk, we politely greeted a young woman. Hoping to walk by ourselves, we headed in the opposite direction. The woman, however, asked if she could join us. Although not what we’d planned, something about her told me she needed more than a guide through the swamp; she needed someone with whom to talk. My husband walked ahead, occasionally stopping to wait for us at various benches along the way. She and I strolled along, taking pictures and chatting. Although I pointed out birds and flowers, most of the conversation centered on her, her pain and uncertainty. We talked about trusting God, having faith, and church.

As a result of her joining us, our walk at the swamp took more than twice the usual time. Our mitzvah, however, came with a reward. Yes, we saw the usual: anhingas, herons, and a limpkin. Then, as we arrived at the raised viewing platform, we glanced up to see three swallow-tail kites. Had we been anywhere else in the swamp, we’d never have spotted them. Seeing those graceful birds with their long pointed wings and forked tails as they soared effortlessly in the sky was an “Aha!” moment from God. After a few minutes, the birds flew off and we walked on. Later, we stopped to look over the prairie. Our new-found friend saw a green anole and we patiently waited while she tried to get a shot of it. Had we not paused, we wouldn’t have seen a doe and her fawn as they pranced across the field, kindly stopping once for a photo opportunity. This rare sighting was another one of God’s “Aha!” moments. As we continued our walk along a side trail, we warned our companion that we’ve never seen any wildlife there. To our surprise, we came upon a Florida cooter just starting to make her nest. We stopped and watched as she dug in the soft dirt. Then, to our delight, she dropped her eggs and carefully buried them. While I’ve seen turtles laying eggs, this was the first time I’ve ever watched the whole process, start to finish, and from the “business end” of the turtle. This was the “hat trick” of “Aha!” moments for the day. Yet, we wouldn’t have been witness to any of them had we not taken the time to give a little of ourselves to someone who needed some companionship.

Jesus told the Pharisees the two greatest commands: love God and love your neighbor. Those two mitzvoth were the basis for all the rest of those 613 Old Testament commands. Every time we are helpful, generous, kind, compassionate, responsive, caring, supportive, and obliging we are obeying His command and doing a mitzvah! Cynics often say, “No good deed goes unpunished.” I prefer thinking that a good deed is its own reward! Moreover, while every good deed is its own reward, God usually puts a little something extra there for us, even if it is three kites, two deer, and a turtle in labor!

Kind deeds often come back to the givers in fairer shapes than they go. [Louisa M. Alcott]

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back. [Luke 6:38 (NLT)]

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