By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Thankfully, we live in a community that is blessed with people who perform remarkable, remarkable acts of Chessed. The efforts of Yeshiva students and others in the wake of Hurricane Sandy were remarkably inspiring. Very recently, we were witness to local Yeshiva students from Yeshiva of Far Rockaway who danced vigorously to bring joy to a groom, local high school girls (TAG) working the kitchen and waitressing a wedding, local elementary boys (Siach Yitzchok) waitering for another Simcha. Mothers of the high school girls joined their daughters in this Mitzvah as well, fathers happily provided transportation and other support. Girls returning from seminary joined up too. So impressive is the extent of the chessed in our community, that the daughter of a very famous Rosh Yeshiva in Brooklyn who came to one of these Smeichot remarked, “I have never seen this level of Chessed before. This should be a model for all of Klal Yisroel.”
The truth is that this is just a drop in the bucket of the extensive chessed that goes on around us. In light of this remarkable activity, an overview of the general Mitzvah of Chessed is presented below.
THE TWO GEMORAHS
The Gemorah (Sotah 14a) discusses the pasuk which says, “Acharei Hashem Elokecha taylechu – you shall walk after Hashem your G-d (Dvarim 13:5).” The Gemorah poses a question. It asks, “How is it possible to physically walk after the Divine Presence?”
The Gemorah responds that it means to follow after the Midos, the character traits, kavyachol, of Hashem. Just as He provides for the unclothed, so too must you provide clothing to them. The Sefer Mitzvos Gedolos states that this verse is part of the related Pasuk of “v’halachta b’drachav – and you shall walk in his ways.” In other words, the verse of Acharei Hashem Elokecha Taylechu is referencing the verse of v’halachta b’drachav.
The Gemorah in Shabbos (133b) discusses another entirely different pasuk, “Zeh Kaili V’anveihu..” The Gemorah in Shabbos understands it to mean that we must attempt to liken ourselves to Him. Just as He is kind and merciful, so too must you be kind and merciful.
THE DIFFERENT CONCEPTS
It is a principle in understanding verses (Sanhedrin 34a) that while one verse can teach us multiple concepts, one lone concept is not derived from multiple differing verses.
Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sherr zt”l, son-in-law of the Alter of Slabodka and the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva, concludes (Leket Sichos Mussar p.76) that these different sets of Psukim must therefore be teaching us two different concepts. The Pasuk of V’halachta biDrachav teaches us the obligation of practical Chessed – actually walking in His ways.
The pasuk of “Zeh Kaili v’Anveihu” teaches us the obligation of feeling that the performance of Chessed brings us closer to Hashem. This is on account of the Gemorah’s understanding of the word “Anvehu” to mean “Ani v’hu – I and Him.” This is an obligation of thought, not practice, but rather thought concerning the practice.
One means of achieving this is the further obligation that the sages placed on people to say, “When will my actions reach the level of those of our forefathers. The forefathers personified these principles of Chessed and wholeness.
THE THIRD CONCEPT
The posuk in Micha (6:8) states, “..What does Hashem require of you? Merely to do justice and love Chessed..” The idea is that we must foster and develop a love of Chessed. There are three elements to this love:
1] To love doing Chessed ourselves.
2] To love and appreciate a situation where Chessed is being performed by others for another or for others.
3] To love the existence of opportunities for Chessed in the world.
OLAM CHESSED YIBANEH
The Alter of Slabodka writes that the notion of Olam Chessed Yibaneh tells us that just as Hashem built the world with Chessed, so too must we build the world with Chessed.
Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky zt”l was the Gadol HaDor in the early twentieth century. After he had passed away, his notes to himself were found. He had a note that stated he should always make sure to perform at least twoo chassadim per day.
POWER OF CHESSED
The Midrash (Introduction to Aicha #24) tells us that all the Avos mentioned their merits to Hashem in order that the namtion of Israel should ultimately be redeemed. Avrohom Avinu mentioned the mesiras Nefesh involved in Akeidas Yitzchok. Yitzchok too cried out and responded that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Hashem only responded to Rachel because her merits involved the notion of Chessed. She gave the simanim to her sisters so that she not be embarrassed. This is why the Pasuk in Yirmiyahu (31:14-16) states, “A voice is heard on High – Rachel is crying for her children..”
KAVANA IN CHESSED
The Mitzvah of Chessed is a fulfillment of the Torah commandment of “V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha – love your neighbor as yourself.” Generally speaking, we rule that when a person fulfills a Torah Mitzvah, Kavana is required in order for it to count. Kavana means that a person must have in mind that he is fulfilling the Mitzvah of hashem as found in the Torah. This would seem to be the case in regard to Chessed as well (See Ahavas Chessed 2:23). However, many Poskim have written that although it is required ideally, if one did not have the correct Kavana, the Mitzvah still counts, post factor. The Chazon Ish was of the opinion that this concept does not apply in regard to Mitzvos that are between man and man (Toraso yehge, Miluim #10).
DIVINE SOURCE FOR JOY OF CHESSED
There are two Mitzvos in the Torah that imbue an individual with their own unique feeling of joy – they are the love of Torah learning and the joy of a Chessed. These special joys, in fact, have a Divine source to them. They emanate from the Ohr Panim kaveyachol of Hashem. In the Tefilah of Shmoneh Esreh written by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah we say, “Ki b’or panecha nasata lanu toras chaim v’ahavas Chesed.”
TZNIUS IN CHESSED
It is important to keep the Chessed as pure and pristine as possible and not to show off the Chessed. This is the fulfillment of V’hatzneya leches im elokecha (Michah 6:8). Such a person is described as an “v’yikrah Ish Emunim.” It is also the understanding of the Pasuk in Mishlei (6:14) “Matan b’saiser yikveh af.” Just like in Torah, where Chazal tell us in Pirkei Avos (4:3) that we not make Torah a crown to show off in, the great Roshei Yeshiva have said the same thing in Chessed.
At the same time, it is also important to spread the notion of doing Chessed and getting others involved in the Chessed. This is something that takes work – to make sure that the Chessed is done Lishma – with a purity, yet at the same time to help spread the notion of Chessed. The Tefilah that we say in the Shabbos Shmoneh Esreh – “Vetaher libeinu l’avdecha b’emes – and purfy our hearts to serve you in truth” is very instructive here.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org