A World of Kindness
Our sages tell us the world exists on three things: Torah, prayer and kindness. Can you imagine a world of kindness? Hashem tells us this is achievable...
by Yael Karni
“The world is built on kindness.” (Psalms 89:15)
The Hebrew word for kindness is chesed. This is the spiritual force with which Hashem created existence. We only exist because of Hashem’s moment by moment desire that we do, and our prayers attest to this; that “Hashem, in His goodness, renews each day, continuously, the work of Creation” [the Blessings of the Shema]. In fact, the deeper meaning of the word chesed is unlimited giving but we commonly identify it with the attribute of loving-kindness.
The prophet Micah tells us: “He [Hashem] has told you: O man, what is good, and what does G-d require of you – but to act justly, to love chesed, and to walk humbly with your G-d”.
The Ramak [Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, the famous 16th kabbalist] in his famous ethical/kabbalistic treatise, The Palm Tree of Devorah, encourages us to emulate Hashem’s characteristics as the means to attaining godliness. He bases his approach on the thirteen supernal attributes of Mercy mentioned again by the prophet Micah, one of which is “for He [Hashem] delights in kindness”. By aspiring to emulate all of the attributes we can be the conduit for Hashem’s blessings for the whole world.
The first biblical personality to epitomise and, indeed, create a divine channel for, chesed was Avraham. He developed the spontaneity to give by not just showing hospitality to people who needed it or drawing people close to Hashem because they showed interest, but rather by actively developing a desire to give. By emulating Hashem in this particular divine attribute, Avraham and Sarah not only gave people physical life but spiritual life by drawing them close to Hashem.
The Hebrew word for love is ahavah, the root of which is the word “hav” which means to give. Therefore, our sages tell us, the way to really develop a love for another person is by giving to them. The person who trains himself/herself to give, gains spiritually. It’s deeply fulfilling because it’s a spiritual pursuit and actually quite “addictive”!
We live in probably one of the most materialistic, consumer-ridden societies ever. The temptations to buy and possess are overwhelming and therefore it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that material possessions will provide lasting, inner happiness. Even ingesting dangerous substances for a temporary feeling of wellbeing is a form of taking, of self-centredness. Of course, with what we have said above, it becomes apparent that the opposite is true.
The Jewish People are known for their lovingkindness. You only have to see how many Jewish charities exist, usually disproportionate to the size of their community.
There’s a charity here in London devoted to helping Jews with mental health issues, which, as I understand, was started by a couple of families who having had family members with mental illnesses, wanted to help other people in similar situations. From that small desire to help, grew a now well-known organisation which has helped many, many Jews to cope with such these illnesses, and given them a safe and nurturing sanctuary.
Someone who wants to give will be given help by Hashem.
Even Jews who may not consider themselves religious [maybe even anti-religious] are quite often drawn to helping people. Just think of the early psychotherapists – Freud, Jung, Adler; or those Jews who fought against the apartheid regimes.
The saintly Chofetz Chaim [Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan] outlines in his book Ahavat Chesed [Love of Kindness] all the areas of kindness that a Jew should involve himself in, ranging from the obligation to lend, paying wages on time, prohibition of not taking revenge against someone who has offended you, giving a 10th of your net income to charity, showing hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, escorting the dead to burial and comforting mourners, kindness through offering to listen to someone in distress. Go into any of the more religious communities and you will see these laws being lived out in a most exemplary way.
The trait of chesed is so important that the Chofetz Chaim tells us it is effective in securing atonement for one’s sins. In fact, our sages tell us that in the merit of learning Torah and chesed, a person will be spared the trials and tribulations associated with the coming of Moshiach.
Of course, someone can give with a very genuine desire and yet not feel this spiritual elevation. Why is that? We all have an Evil Inclination and sometimes that Evil Inclination is quite clever at making us think we are doing some altruistically when in fact deep down we crave recognition and honour. So we feel cheated when our chesed goes unappreciated, In fact, this isn’t actually giving; it’s really taking, or giving in order to receive – it’s conditional.
I remember years ago I had a friend who tragically died at a young age. She was ill for several years and became increasingly physically debilitated. Occasionally when I visited her, she would ask me to leave straight away because she wasn’t up to having visitors. Her mother once related that a childhood friend of hers also went to visit her one day and was also asked to leave. Unfortunately, she never went back to see her friend because she took offense at being dismissed. Her giving was based – at least at that point in her life – on receiving.
Our sages tell us the world exists on three things: Torah, Prayer and Kindness. Can you imagine a world of kindness? Hashem tells us this is achievable – we just have to believe it.