Rabbi Yisrael Salanter took particular pains always to be on time for his lectures. Yet once it had become very late and he had still not made his appearance. Concerned, his students went outside to look for him. When they reached the bridge leading to the city, they noticed him standing deep in conversation with a young woman. They understood that he was occupied with some grave matter and withdrew.
When he finally entered the Yeshivah, R. Israel apologized for being so late, but explained that a matter of life and death had detained him. The students subsequently investigated and finally the details of the incident were pieced together: On his way to the Bet Midrash, he was about to cross the bridge when he suddenly noticed an excited woman rushing towards the river. He stood in her way, stopped her and asked her why she was running. She tried to pass by him and told him to leave her alone. R. Israel grasped her by the sleeve and repeated his request that she tell him what was the matter. Forced to remain where she was, she unfolded her tale of woe.
A short while ago her two children were taken ill, and had died a few days later. So overcome with grief was her husband that he had been unable to work for the past several weeks. They had been forced to hire someone else to drive their wagon, and in this way managed to subsist and cover the costs of the husband's illness. Suddenly the horse died. Their sole means of support was gone. In despair, she had decided to throw herself into the river.
R. Israel talked to her at length. Tenderly and softly he explained to her that God could easily make good her deficiencies. She was still young. A year from now she could bear another child, and so on. Her husband would recover and resume his occupation. As for the loss of the horse, he would send her the money for another the next day. Slowly the woman became pacified and regained her composure. She thanked R. Israel for the goodness of his heart and returned home. A year later R. Israel was invited to attend the Brit Milah of her newly born son.
– The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2, pages 247- 248.
So often, we have no idea the impact we can have on a life by just taking a few moments away from our time. If we look at how this story could have ended, it could have been one where the entire family would have ceased to exist within a matter of days. But through Rabbi Salanter's sensitivity and understanding, he not only saved the distraught woman from throwing herself into the river; his care and concern helped lead her and her husband to continue their name and legacy through a new child.
Rabbi Salanter, a profound and revered teacher at the time, was no doubt a person in demand whose time was spoken for on a constant basis. Though being diligent in his Torah obligations, he knew that diligence was for naught if it didn't encompass those with whom he walked through the world daily. Seeing this woman not only moved him to compassion, but was for him just as much of an obligation as any other task that was before him. Her pain became his pain, her problems became his.
The concept of alacrity involved the swiftness of one's approach to a mitzvah and its speedy consummation. Similarly, they of blessed memory said (Pesachim 4a):"Those with alacrity fulfill the mitzvot promptly." – Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just, pg. 37
This quote highlights that honest and well-meaning acts of kindness and empathy are diligence on our part. We don't have to accomplish great feats on a daily basis. But we are required to be diligent in all things, have eyes looking for those in need, and walk with purpose and strength knowing what our calling is. When we see a need, we should be quick to help. Just as Mashiach Yeshua walked among people and brought healing daily, may we have eyes to see the needs of those who walk among us and bring healing and hope.