Learn from the Beggars of Jerusalem

What is a moral man?

If to answer your mind reaches for political ideologies or bio-psychological theories or, heaven help us, sociology, stop. That way lies only pain, for you will eventually seek to define the word ‘good’ (the opposite of ‘evil’) by what the discursive intellect understands, which means that ‘good’ will have to be defined in terms of ‘evil’ and so never wholly good. The cold human intellect has serious issues overcoming the being/non-being distinction that serves as its earliest intuition and founding principle, which is a good thing if you value “objectivity” and the like.

I have a better place for the mind to reach: Jerusalem’s bristling legion of beggars. If you travel to the Holy City and give one a few shekels, he or she will tend to respond in reflex with the two Hebrew words meaning ‘you should merit to good deeds.’

The beggar of Jerusalem does not reply to selflessness with blessings of health or wealth but rather, with a touch of stealth, as follows: G-d should reward you for this good deed you’ve done by allowing you to do further good deeds!

What a strange thought, that my one good deed was a reward for a prior one and will be cause for a future one! It’s good deeds all the way down, as it were, for as the Mishna says, a Divine Commandment drags another in its wake.

Many critics of what is perceived to be religion have wondered over the millennia why, if the deed is ‘good’, must the reward be in some paradise from which no one has ever returned. The beggar of Jerusalem knows the secret! The true reward of a good deed is a good deed, for any reward other than a good deed pales beside it.

The beggar reminds you that the ‘good’ in the action of placing the coin in the beggar’s hand is not some qualified kernel buried deep beneath the compromises of this world and contingent on the means and ends of humankind. It is not ‘good’ because the beggar is going to use it for good things, or because feeding a family is of cosmic worth to the human mind, or because good means a highly evolved misplaced, badly malformed, and dyspeptic liver sense of tribal altruism.

The good in your tiny act, in a coin passing between sweaty hands on a hurried and a harried hike up from the Kotel, is a yawning black hole. It is a true and impossible infinite regress, the mouthpiece of Gabriel’s Horn at the lips of the Creator. It is an infinitesimal point at which our reality empties out and inverts, a single drop of water purifying every body in the world, the period of the first sentence of morning swallowing the day. The good in the good deed draws upon the Highest Good with which it is One, source of all things, at a point where the universe finds itself burned through until all facades remember they are and are not facades. The coin, between hands, winks in the light, and all time reaches conclusion in an eternally arriving departure, multiplicity reduced to the negative space around the supernally strung pearls of His Will accomplished and thus existing more profoundly, more eternally, good.

We eagerly await the messianic age, which perhaps in some sense is nothing more or nothing less than seeing the good deeds—of which even the empty are “full like pomegranates”—for what they are, rather than what they appear to be. For an infinite reality full of light so true it can consume any darkness and be any darkness. For a justification underlying all that is possible and all that is impossible. For G-d.