I had the great privilege recently of reading a life-changing book and meeting its inspiring author. When we attended Rosh Hashanah services at Temple Israel here in Westport a couple of weeks ago, each of the 1,000 member families was given a copy of a book by Dr. Ron Wolfson called God’s To-Do List: 103 Ways to Be an Angel and Do God’s Work on Earth. The book was a gift from the family of a wonderful local woman who had been a Temple board member and a very active and generous volunteer in the community, and had passed away earlier this year. In their loving inscription on the bookplate, her family referred to her as their “angel.” To complement this thoughtful gift to the congregation, the Temple arranged for the author to speak this morning to an audience of religious school students and families.
Over the past several days I read the fairly short book aloud to my family, and surprisingly we were all engaged from page one. Basically, Mr. Wolfson—or “Ron” as he personally introduced himself to each of us this morning—says that we are made in God’s image, and that God doesn’t depend on angels, rather God depends on us to be angels. One of my favorite quotes from the Introduction is, “You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.”
Each of the ten chapters contains examples of one of the acts of good that God does in the Bible—create, bless, rest, call, comfort, care, repair, wrestle, give and forgive—and ends with a list of ten “To-Dos,” any or all of which you can undertake to make a difference in the world and be one of God’s angels. (There’s also space for you and your family to come up with your own To-Dos.) They are mostly simple but powerful ideas that can bring about change to you, your family, your community or the world, one little part at a time.
For example, the first chapter talks about the very first act of God—creation. The first To-Do is to find your own capacity to create, whether your God-given gift is painting, drawing, sculpting, photographing, composing, dancing, writing, cooking, baking, etc. Another idea is to collect evidence of your creations—your children, your achievements, your experiences, your journeys—by creating memory scrapbooks to document them, and take pleasure in your creations.
In the chapter about “Comfort,” we learn of God’s visit to Abraham to offer the comfort of healing, and then learn that Abraham interrupted his visit with God to be hospitable and welcome three strangers, offering them comfort and respite from their journey. The To-Do list for this chapter includes suggestions like bringing soup, ginger ale, tea and tissues to a sick friend; letting someone go in front of you in line or yielding to someone trying to merge into traffic; attending funerals and comforting mourners at a wake or shiva just with your presence; or simply asking if there’s anything you can do to help when you see someone who looks sad or unwell.
Sometimes we don’t consider what joy just a tiny gesture can bring. Acts of lovingkindness are referenced in many places throughout the Bible. Today, however, caring seems to be a lost art, except in the face of major tragedy. But there are little things every day you can do to show people you care, such as sending a greeting card to someone just to brighten his or her day, bringing coffee and a treat likes bagels or cookies or cake to the office, and never parting from your loved ones without kissing them good-bye, no matter what.
There’s discussion of social justice, and of dealing with God in times of struggle, and of finding it within yourself to ask for forgiveness and to be forgiving. And each of these things, no matter how seemingly insignificant—sometimes simply a heartfelt “thank you”—is an opportunity to make a difference.
Ron, a professor at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and a cofounder of Synagogue 3000, is warm and friendly, and shared with us this morning several of the true stories in his book that exemplify real people among us who are masterful at serving as God’s angels. And he emphasized that we all have the ability and potential to be angels in our own ways, finding the divine spark within each of us.
As I read the book and went through the To-Dos, I continually saw the face of my mom, our angel, who every day effortlessly and lovingly carried out God’s work on earth: caring for her aging parents, calling friends just to say hello, creating funny poems and photo albums to bring humor into her friends’ lives, listening to family and friends who needed an ear, working tirelessly for the Jewish elderly, and above all, never forgetting to do #103 on the book’s list—smile.
I highly recommend this book to people of all faiths as a heartwarming reminder of the small ways we can be God’s partners. It touched each of us in my family in different ways.