The Law of the Radiator

April 3, 2021

Author(s): Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz,

Listen Watch

Pesach, Day 7
April 3, 2021 — 21 Nisan 5781
The Law of the Radiator
by Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Temple Emanuel, Newton, MA


If you know teens who play hockey, you know how all important it is for them to get their time on the ice.  That time is limited and hard to come by.  Hockey parents are wont to drive their young hockey stars to the ice rink at 6 in the morning. 

            In a place like Seaforth, Ontario, the ice rink manager, Graham Nesbitt, had a quality problem.  There was only one ice rink.  But hockey in Canada is super popular.  Far more kids want to play hockey than can comfortably skate in the city’s one rink.  But Graham Nesbitt was committed to the idea that any teen who wants to skate can skate, and he would go out of his way to open up the rink early in the morning, to stay there and keep it open late at night, seven days a week.  He would keep the rink open in the face of major snowstorms.  When other businesses were closed, his ice rink was open for any young skater whose parents were willing to drive them through the storm to get extra ice time.  Graham Nesbitt did not see his job as managing an ice rink but as nurturing teen athletes who dreamed of becoming hockey players.

            Graham Nesbitt embodies a principle that is important to Judaism and eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.  The principle is what my sister Lee calls the law of the radiator.  What you radiate comes right back to you.  If you radiate positive energy, positive energy comes back to you.  If you radiate  negative  energy, negative energy comes back to you.  The eastern religions speak of Karma, a Sanskrit word which means action.  With Karma, a good deed produces a beneficial effect.  A bad deed produces a harmful effect.

            The rabbinic tradition calls the law of the radiator middah kneged middah, measure for measure.   The energy that you put out into the world comes back to you.  This is true for negative energy:  Jacob deceives his father Isaac with cloth to smell and feel like his hunting brother Esau.  When Jacob becomes a father, he is deceived by his children with cloth, the coat of many colors that Joseph’s brothers use to suggest that Joseph had been killed by wild animals. Deceit with cloth begets deceit with cloth.   

The principle also applies when it comes to positive energy. Joseph buries Jacob in Israel. During the Exodus, Moses gathers atzmot Yosef, the bones of Joseph, so that Joseph gets buried in Israel as he buried his father.  What goes around comes around.

Which raises the question: what energy are we radiating now?  In month 13 of the pandemic, all of us could be forgiven if the energy we radiate is fatigue, exhaustion, depression, frustration.  That is more than understandable.  There is only one problem.   The law of the radiator means that the exhaustion and frustration we radiate comes back to us.  We have some agency here.  When we find ourselves radiating negative energy, can we stop, check ourselves, and work intentionally to radiate positive energy because what goes around comes around.

Let me give you an example.  Before the seders, Shira and I were speaking with a beloved friend who is in her 90s.  We asked her what she was doing for her seders.  She explained that her grandchildren and great grandchildren were not vaccinated, so the family was not comfortable with her being with them for the seders.  So she was going to do a communal seder on zoom the first night at the place where she lives.  And on the second night, she would join Michelle and Elias’s zoom seder at the shul.  She then added: there is no point in complaining.  Complaining gets me nowhere.  I am going to make the best of what is.  I am going to enjoy this year’s Pesach seders, and next year, I hope to be with my family in person.  Her positive energy generates positive energy. Shira and I want to be with her.  As soon as her place will welcome visitors, we will see her in person. The law of the radiator is true.   

Which brings us back to Graham Nesbitt.   He went all out to give every kid in Seaforth, Ontario a chance to skate.  Two of the kids who got ice time were  Ryan and Cal O’Reilly, who would go on to play pro hockey for the National Hockey League.    Ryan was the captain of the St. Louis Blues when they won the Stanley Cup.  Cal plays for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Graham Nesbitt retired from running the Seaforth ice rink in 2003.  Years later, he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease.  For a number of years, medication was effective at treating this disease, but at a certain point, the medication stopped working.  Graham Nesbitt was 65 when his doctors told him that his only chance for survival was to get a kidney transplant.  That was in 2019, 16 years after he had retired from managing the ice rink. Word went out in Seaforth, Ontario that Graham Nesbitt needed a kidney transplant.  Families who had interacted with him during his years of managing the ice rink lined up to be tested to see if they might be a match.  One person was a match.  Her name was Bonnie O’Reilly, the mother of Ryan and Cal O’Reilly, the pro hockey players.

When Bonnie O”Reilly learned she was a match, she did not hesitate to give Graham Nesbitt one of her kidneys.  She explained:  “What you’ve done for my boys, helping them achieve their goal of playing professional hockey, it’s the least we can do.”

One month ago today, on March 3, Bonnie O’Reilly donated one of her kidneys to Graham Nesbitt.  A photo went viral of them sharing a hospital room together, each in their gowns, each wearing a mask, you can see their faces smile behind the masks, each with a thumbs up sign, on the other side of the kidney transplant which was successful, with both on their way towards a full recovery.  That is the power of the law of the radiator.  There is no statute of limitations on karma.  Kindness and decency from twenty years ago still inspire new kindness and decency today.

What energy are you radiating out into the world, because that energy is coming back to you.  Shabbat shalom and chag sameakh!