Go with Your Strengths
I got an email today asking me to help with meals and errands for a sick congregant. Yet instead of jumping at this opportunity for a ticket to Olam Haba, I find myself balking. I feel busy enough with my own family. And (this is the petty part) I know the family in question and they aren't, how shall we say, the easiest folks to deal with. Not that I am either! (And not that there's anything wrong with that!) But I'm afraid I'll volunteer too much and find myself in over my head and neglecting the home front.
I'm going straight to hell, aren't I?
Ooooh a well written question WITH Seinfeld references!! Today is my lucky day!
Well let's get to it shall we?
First off let me state for the record that I am not an authority on who will and will not be going to Hell, but does seem clear though that Gemilut Chassadim (acts of kindness) make the world a nicer place in which to live, and I am a big advocate of volunteerism and kindness in general.
All that said it is important for a person to know their limits even when it comes to matters of do-gooding. If a person is always helping other people out to the point where they are stressed out, snapping at their spouse, or own family is generally neglected then that's too much. After all, charity begins at home, right? (What would as Ask Shifra column be like without at least one platitude thrown in for good measure?)
Since everyone is busy these days it is easy to overextend one's self and conversely it is just as easy to become completely absorbed into one's own life - it's important to find a balance. I find it's easier for me generally to do the type of volunteering that can be fit into a fixed schedule such as volunteering at a nursing home, planning shul activities, or cooking food which can be frozen for the community food bank, but some people prefer to just pitch in here and there as needed (such as the kinds of requests as you received) and not make a regular commitment. Both kinds of help are always needed and appreciated.
Lastly I'd like to say Go With Your Strengths.
If you are a poor cook please don't inflict the sick and the needy with your terrible cooking or your lousy leftovers. After my youngest was born (in late November) someone presented me with their Thanksgiving turkey leftovers as a Shabbos meal. I thought that was pretty lame. Maybe you are great with kids or the elderly, or just a good listener. Perhaps you own a huge van and are a master shlepper, or maybe you have piles of money and nothing to do with it? There is so much good work available in the world there is bound to be something for everyone. If you are going to do something do it right and more importantly with a full heart. It's very hard for many people to accept help so whatever you choose to do, and whenever you choose to do it do it with a smile and let the person know that it was YOUR pleasure. Doing good things feels really good when you see how much even the most ungrateful of people benefit from your kindness.