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Far Reaching Kindness

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg

In his introduction to Ahavat Chesed, the Chofetz Chaim brings numerous examples of chesed (acts of kindness) mentioned in the Torah. The Torah commences with Hashem making clothing for Adam and Chava and culminates with Him burying Moshe Rabeinu. By beginning and ending with chesed, the Torah teaches us the great importance of this mitzvah. The Chofetz Chaim teaches that there are two types of chesed, gemilat chesed b’mamono (monetary assistance) and b’gufo (physical assistance). Chesed b’gufo can apply to someone who is alive such as hachnasat kallah and bikur cholim or to someone who has already passed on such as taking out the body, taking care of the burial, and giving a eulogy.

The Rambam in hilchot aveilut discusses the idea that the mitzvot of gemilat chasadim are a Rabbinic obligation but they are also the fulfillment of the general mitzvah d’oraysa of V’havata l’reiacha komocha.

In Parshat Bereishit, we find many examples of chesed. Hashem was personally involved in the wedding arrangements of Adam and Chavah and rejoiced with the bride and groom. In Parshat Noach, we find Shem and Yefet doing a great act of chesed by covering Noach in a modest way. In Parshat Lech Lecha, we read about Avraham rescuing Lot. In the first verse of Parshat Vayera we find Hashem visiting Avraham and fulfilling the mitzvah of bikur cholim. Then we are privy to the incredible hachnosot orchim of Avraham. The Torah delineates the reason why Hashem chose Avraham to be the father of the Jewish nation. He knew that Avraham would be involved in chesed and would teach his descendants the importance of this mitzvah. “Ki yedativ leman asher yetzave et banav ve’t beito acharov …lasot tzedakah umishpat.” (For I have known him, that he instructs his children and his household after him …to do righteousness and justice.) The Chofetz Chaim explains that mishpat usually refers to din, strict justice, but tzedakah refers to going further than obligated. How are they related? He explains that when it comes to how you treat others, it should be with mishpat. Be strict with yourself about how you relate to others but apply the midah of tzedakah, be forgiving in how you react to how others treat you.

Rav Leff notes that after the Jews left Egypt, the dogs received a special reward for keeping quiet. They were given the non -kosher meat. The Daas Zekeinim says that one way a sheep can become not kosher is if it is attacked by a wolf and it makes a hole in its lung. Although the sheep dog didn’t do its job and did not chase away the wolf it still gets the meat of the sheep. He may have made a mistake this time, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to show gratitude for all the other times he did protect the sheep. That’s tzedakah.

Ki chesed chafazati v’lo zavach.” Chesed atones for our sins. Praying for others is also a form of chesed. In Parshat Vayera we find that Avraham davened for Sedom. “In Parshat Chaya Sarah we find Avraham involved in giving a eulogy for Sarah and burying her. When Eliezer came to look for a wife for Yitzchak he looked for chesed. At the end of the Parsha, we find Yitzchak and Yishmael burying Avraham. In Parshat Vayeishev when Yosef asks the butler to remember him to Pharaoh he says, “Do a chesed with me.” To praise someone in front of another person who has the ability to help him is a very important aspect of chesed. This comes up a lot in the area of jobs and shidduchim. In Parshat Vayigash, Yosef treats the people of Egypt with chesed by developing ways to help them survive through the seven years of famine. A similar example is found in Parshat Vayishlach where it says, “Vayichan et penei h’air,” Yaakov encamped outside Shechem. Chazal explain that he worked to benefit society. He established a monetary system, market places, and bathhouses. In Shemot the midwives are lauded as outstanding paragons of chesed. Instead of following Pharoah’s command to kill the Jewish babies, they helped the mothers give birth and take care of their babies. Rav Shmuel Rozovsky points out that these midwives were prophetesses. The state of being a prophetess is an incredibly high spiritual level. Yet doing kindness and bringing children into the world is so important that when the Torah introduces these two neviot it gives them nicknames related to gemilat chasadim. May we be inspired to grow in the elevated middah of chesed.

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