click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

The Smallest Good Deed
Mom with a View

The Smallest Good Deed

What strong marriages are really made of.


"The smallest good deed is better than the grandest good intention." – Duguet

I don't know who Duguet was or in what context he (or she?) said this, (I could probably look it up on Wikipedia but who has time?) but it is actually very good marital advice.

In the romantic poetry and prose genre, those in love speak of the rose petals they want strewn at the feet of their beloved; they speak of canopies of stars, the song of birds, the glow of the harvest moon. The woman, the apparent recipient of these imagined gestures of undying devotion, swoons at his feet.

But, I have to confess, they leave me unmoved.

I would trade changing the light bulbs for the rose petals, taking out the garbage for the stars, and since I have an irrational fear of birds, just about anything for that!

Words of affection are certainly nice. And necessary. The desire to give to someone you love is a good one, as is the wish to express your caring lavishly.

But not only are those gestures impractical, they're frequently not as meaningful as the small daily mundane activities. Because they are ultimately useless (Sorry, I'm a practical kinda gal), they don't relieve our daily burden, they don't ease our stress, they don't remove any pressure from our regular responsibilities. They aren't really giving us what we need, what is truly helpful.

Do they really express love or just the poet's fanciful notion of it? If my husband ever thought to throw rose petals in my path (he knows me better than that!), I'd probably laugh. But when he went away recently and set up the coffeemaker for me so I wouldn't have to do anything in the morning when I stumbled bleary-eyed out of bed, I was touched. And appreciative.

These kinds of small actions are the ones I think Duguet was referring to, the ones that are better than grand intentions, the ones that are easier to implement and of much greater value.

Maybe one positive result of this recession will be a back-to-basics in the romantic arena as well.

If Duguet could have gone in the same spirit (maybe he did), I think he would have said that small private acts are also preferable to large public ones (although he may have worded it better). Affection expressed excessively in public is, at best, a show and, at worst, a humiliation. (Or is it the other way around?) Not only is its sincerity suspect -- it's not clear whether it's for you or the crowd. (Can we officially end proposals on the scoreboard at baseball games?!) It takes something private and special and turns it into a public experience. That's not love, that's Hollywood.

We have gotten used to expecting the lavish: elaborate proposals, fancy weddings, exotic honeymoons, large diamonds, extravagant gifts and vacations. But maybe one positive result of this recession will be a back-to-basics in the romantic arena as well. Maybe it will mean a return to the (dull?) solid values that keep marriage together, the interdependency for the little things, the expression of affection in simple, reserved and private ways. And the making a little extra effort to give just a little more -- to make her tea after dinner, to take his shoes to be resoled and polished, to bring her flowers for Shabbos, to order the books he wants from the library.

No one will ever write sonnets to these activities, yet this is the stuff of real life. And real success.

I haven't seen any studies but I'm sure that these relationships – the ones built on the smallest good deeds instead of the grandest good intentions – are the longer lasting ones.

April 18, 2009

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Anonymous, October 11, 2011 2:14 AM

All those little things add up to a great marriage

I loved this blog entry and couldn't agree more that it's the little things we do for our loved one that are appreciated (they certainly are the the things I value!) I'm not referring to buying each other stuff, but rather thinking about how to make the other person's day easier or doing something to make them feel cherished. Like when I get up early before work and walk the dog, even though he has the day off...but I really know he could use a sleep-in. Or when I come home on a cold winter evening from riding my horse and walk up the stairs to hear the tub being filled with hot water...with a glass of wine on the ledge. Or we drag ourselves to a long-planned dinner date, even though we are both dead tired and would rather stay home, but don't want to say so for fear of disappointing the other person (because we both know that as soon as the other guy pleads tiredness, we will give in to their need for rest). IMO, a strong marriage is built on a foundation of caring, patience and flexibility (because who really cares if he leaves the seat up or his sock on the floor??) Oh, and try putting a smile on your face when he enters the room, instead of a complaint on your will do wonders for the relationship. xoxo Signed, 43 and in love with the same boy since I was 17 <3

(10) Devorah, November 11, 2010 2:55 AM

making it romantic

Aw, JLG, you are such a sweet innocent :) of course, playing a romantic song on the guitar will make her feel special, but in the anxiety of the meeting itself, that moment will be gone. If a housekeeper does her laundry, no big deal. If you look her in the eye and say, "I know you are nervous about that meeting tomorrow, so I got your favorite shirt ready for you" that IS a big deal. It is the amount of emotion invested, not just the act itself, that makes something romantic. Add on "I did it for YOU because you are so special to me" and ZING!!! Your compliments will be ringing in her head the whole day, every time she sees the shirt she is wearing, she will feel the love and hear the compliments again. The key to making small good deeds meaningful in a marriage, is it has to be not just something that makes the other person's life easier, but something that is important to them. When Mrs. Braverman saw the coffee set up (correct me if I'm wrong) the message she heard was "I know how much you appreciate your morning coffee, and I know how hard it is for you in the morning". It is not the fact of the clean filter, but the fact that her husband knows her so well, even her smallest needs - that he stopped to think about her before he left - and that he took the time, amidst all of his own preparations for the trip, to do something for HER, that she will appreciate and he will get no benefit from. Romantic will always be romantic, but there is an art to making the seemingly mundane into romance. If you learn the art well, a clean shirt, cup of coffee, or mini marshmallows in hot cocoa can convey as much love as a poem, song, or kiss.

(9) Bailey, September 10, 2010 11:02 PM

Words of wisdom.

Amen to this -- and amen to practicality. I also believe "the expression of affection in simple, reserved and private ways" is the best recipe. This isn't to exclude ALL extraordinary displays of affection, but I do believe our society has evolved to value to extravagant rarities over the 'foundation'... and this goes beyond romance, into the basic aspects of daily life -- physical fitness / health, diet, consumer preferences for goods, etc. More appreciation for (and dedication to) the everyday fundamentals is something many of us could benefit from.

(8) Al Stephens, April 13, 2010 1:14 AM

Great blog

Great blog. Shalom!

(7) Deborah, April 28, 2009 10:40 AM

JLG you are indeed very romantic

You do indeed have a long way to go in my opinion. 1st work - then pleasure. First you do the household chores and only THEN start to sing. That is the only way to make it. Few women will smile & feel great while you are singing and the laundy and dises are piling up...

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment