Engaging in Kindness

29 11 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Rachel and Leah In secular society, chesed (kindness) is considered a positive attribute but it is not something regulated or legislated. In Jewish tradition kindness is a significant value. In fact, the Chafetz Chaim wrote an entire book called Ahavat Chesed, in which he codified the numerous laws pertaining to this middah.

The Gemara in Suka mentions that engaging in chesed is superior to charity in three ways.  Charity is done only with money, but kindness can be performed with money and with one’s body. Charity is only given to the poor but kindness can be given to rich and poor alike. Charity is dispensed only to the living, while kindness can be done with the dead as well. It is called chesed shel emet (true kindness) because it can never be paid back.

The Mishna in Avot tells us that the world stands on three pillars, Torah, avodah (serving Hashem),and gemilat chasadim (kindness). Kindness holds up the world. The Gemara in Yevamot says chesed characterizes a Jew. In fact, being kind is such an intrinsic Jewish attribute that the Gemara says that if a person is ruthless one should investigate his lineage. The Midrash Rabbah asks why Megilat Ruth was canonized in the Bible if it contains no ritual laws. Rav Zeira answered that it was to teach us the great reward for those who do acts of kindness. The prophet Micha teaches that the three primary obligations of a Jew are to do justice, walk humbly with Hashem, and to love kindness.

The Rambam stresses in three of his eight levels of charity the importance of anonymity. We should always look for opportunities to do chesed whether we are acknowledged for it or not. Small acts of kindness that count big in heaven include picking up trash from the sidewalk, giving up your seat for an elderly person, helping someone cross the street, allowing another car to pass you, listening with your heart to someone down on their luck, giving your used clothing to the needy, praising someone for their good deeds, encouraging your children to donate their old toys, and initiating a dialogue at a social gathering with someone who appears left out,.

There was once a mitnagid who set out to prove that Chassidut was not all it was made out to be. He came to a Chassidic town and asked the townspeople where the Rebbe was. They answered that he had gone to say Selichot (the penitential prayers) in heaven. The mitnagid was determined to disprove their foolishness. The next morning he ambushed the Rebbe’s house and observed him walking out dressed as a lumberjack. He headed for the forest, chopped some wood, lugged it to the home of an old sick woman and lit a fire for her. When the mitnagid saw this he humbly admitted, “Surely he is in heaven, if not higher.”

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