Ahavat Chesed: Why Can’t I Just Be A Good Person

16 11 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg

Why Can't I Just be a Good Person

The Chafetz Chaim wrote Ahavat Chesed when he was close to fifty years old and already well regarded in the Torah world. Normally authors much younger and relatively unknown will gather approbations for their work.  Yet the Chafetz Chaim solicited haskamot for Ahavat Chesed, including one by the noted Torah scholar, the Netziv, which will be discussed here. The Netziv had his own angle on chesed that fits perfectly with the approach developed in Ahavat Chesed. The Chafetz Chaim had two themes in mind when he wrote his work. First, to teach us the technical details of the mitzva including what is prohibited and permitted. Second, to emphasize that chesed is not just a thoughtful act but an actual mitzvat asei in the Torah. These two points are interconnected, because the fact that chesed is a mitzva, impacts the details of the halachot.


Hashem created man with an intrinsic need to do chesed. Kindness is built into human nature. The Torah describes Hevel as “achiv,” the brother of Kayin. Why does the Torah emphasize this? Of course Hevel was Kayin’s brother. The Netziv writes that Kayin felt a natural brotherly love for Hevel and wanted to do chesed with him. Indeed, at the beginning he gave Hevel some of his produce. The Torah makes special mention of the story of Sedom and how they were decimated to teach us that lack of chesed corrupts our basic human essence.


Rav Nissim Gaon explains that everyone is obligated in logical mitzvot. How can he possibly say that non-Jews are obligated in chesed if it is not one of the Seven Noachide Laws? The gemara in Sanhedrin answers that these seven laws only include the “don’ts.” The “do’s” include many more. Everyone, including non-Jews, is obligated in chesed because it is part of being human. Jews have a double obligation because it is also a mitzva in the Torah.



Hashem promises that one who fulfills the mitzva of shiluach haken will achieve long life anywhere in the world. However, with regard to kibud av, which is harder to fulfill, the Torah promises reward, long life “al ha’adama,” in Eretz Yisrael. What is the difference? The Rambam explains that a Jew receives more reward in the land of Israel because it is Hashem’s palace and His Divine Presence is more closely felt there. Therefore, the verse says, “al ha’adama” to teach us that a person receives more reward in Israel even for a logical mitzva like kibud av, because it is a mitzva in the Torah. Chesed too, though it is an easily understood mitzva, is a mitzva in the Torah and therefore, comes along with all its ramifications. The Netziv notes that even though a logical mitzva makes sense in general, its details may not because Hashem’s standards are higher than normal human standards. It is not dependent on common sense or feelings. Rather, each mitzva includes its myriad halachot.


The Chafetz Chaim wanted to highlight the significance of kindness, and that it is a mitzva and not just a thoughtful act.  May our studies of his monumental work help us reach ever greater heights in middat hachesed.



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