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Parshas Noach - The Key to Kindness               3 Cheshvan 5780

11/01/19 09:10:06


The Mishnah explains that the world stands on three pillars: Torah, Avodah and Gemilus Chasadim - the study of Torah, prayer and acts of kindness. Two of the three, studying Torah and Tefillah – prayer - can be done singularly, by an individual. There’s no question that prayer should be done within a Tzibur , with others together, and learning should be with a study partner with a place of study or a Bais Midrash setting. On the other hand, the mitzva of performing or participating in a Chessed, a kindness, requires at least one other individual, in order to perform the kindness for that person.. Without the other person it is impossible to complete the Chessed. The old cliché, ‘it takes two to tango’ first applied to the Mitzva of Chessed long before the dance was created. Unfortunately, the Mitzvos that are dependent upon one another are more difficult to do. In contrast, Mitzvos that are within our purview are typically within our control. We decide whether to do the mitzva or not; I can daven, choose when or even whether to learn, but it is impossible to complete the Chessed alone; I, the giver, cannot also be the recipient. Alternatively, I the recipient, require the giver.

During the month of Elul, the time of year we prepare for the days of Awe and Judgment, I found myself in Lakewood N.J. a small city with many observant Jews. In my view, a smaller Jewish community has fewer opportunities for Chessed than a larger one. This is not to say there aren’t needs in smaller communities, but the issues and needs multiply as the population expands. For example, we here in San Diego may see one ‘meshulach’/charity collector a week while in the shul where I davened in Lakewood had between fifteen and twenty such individuals every single morning. A second example of simple giving would be when a person might need a car ride because his or her car broke down or is in for repairs. In Lakewood, I could drive around all day as an unpaid ‘Uber/Lyft or taxicab driver, picking up Jews in need of such assistance all day long six days a week. Many families only have one vehicle, and due to the nature of the daily yeshiva schedule, school age children, young marrieds, the elderly, are always hitch-hiking to and from Yeshiva. In these two examples we clearly see opportunity to perform a chessed.

The following is the opinion of this writer,, so I will speak for myself as I’m not sure others feel the same way. Unfortunately for me, when I see collectors scurrying around the Shul collecting, a million thoughts ranging from why do they have to disturb our davening to why can’t they just get a regular job run through my mind. Regarding giving a rides to those caught without a needed car, I think to myself, why didn’t they plan this out? Why couldn’t they arrange to get assistance ahead of time? This is actually the reality of how some people operate, the looking for a ride IS their plan, someone collecting IS working, this is his livelihood. This has been the typical way I viewed these situations in the past. Now it was Elul, the month of introspection, a time to become that better person and develop an attitude towards others as we want God to have toward us. Therefore, I re-focused and analyzed these and other situations to focus on the potential Chessed and make it an actual, a real kindness. This did not require any physical change as to how I would do something, but rather it is a small change in personal attitude and how I approach this Mitzva, which is - no question - a challenge.

The key to kindness is to think about the situation beyond what we see in front of us. Forget about the kid I’m giving a ride for or the man going to yeshiva as being late or disorganized. Think instead about the result: it was because of me that this particular individual was abe to be where they needed to be, hopefully on time rather than late. This person will be able to daven a better Shacharis because I got him there on time. When I give some tzedakah to the collector, I don’t think about him but about the children he’s raising money to help who will have a decent Shabbos dinner or the money to purchase needed shoes or clothing, or the ability to purchase needed medication. By giving the extra dollar, that dollar will contribute to someone’s family to pay down excessive bills. We must realize that the Chessed we do goes far beyond the immediate person in front of us. Chessed, by definition of what giving is really all about, goes far beyond the current situation; that is the key to overcoming those challenging thoughts. This strategy is also found in the Torah for overcoming adversity.

In this week’s parshas Noach the Torah states in Bereishis 7:14 "המה וכל החיה למינה וכל הבהמה למינה וכל הרמש הרמש על הארץ למינהו וכל העוף למינהו כל צפור כל כנף": “They came along with every separate kind of beast, every separate kind of livestock, every separate kind of land animal, and every kind of flying creature - every bird and every winged animal”. The midrashim relate it was not a peaceful year for Noach’s family, who never had time to lie down and sleep for even one full night during the entire twelve-month period of the Mabul. They were responsible for all the thousands of birds, wild animals, domestic animals that had to be fed - each according its own schedule. Some ate by day others by night; it was a 24/7 operation for only eight people. The midrash Socher Tov 1:12 and Midrash Rabbah 28:9 teaches that while Noach was in the Teivah he constantly davened to Hashem and asked to be delivered from this prison; his soul was tired of the smell of lions, bears and panthers. Hashem said to Noach, “It is My decree that you shall not leave this confinement for a full twelve months!”

Rav Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav M’Eliyahu asks what was the purpose of Hashem assigning to Noach and his family this overly-burdensome task of keeping all of the animals alive? Rav Dessler answers that the destruction of the world was due to Chamas/robbery motivated by people’s ego.. To become the builders of the new world, Noach and his family had to work on themselves, cultivating within each of them the opposite trait. The opposite of taking is giving, the opposite of taking what you think is yours is to give back that which is yours. The taking from someone else can only be corrected by giving from yourself. These are the traits of kindness and mercy upon which form the basic principles of Chessed. When a person gives selflessly to a cause, he benefits through inner growth. Noach and his family needed to learn to see beyond the present, beyond the difficult and repulsive job they had in the Ark. The only way to see it through was to investigate the future; their efforts maintained the existence of animal life as was known before the flood.

The key to Chessed is seeing within, looking deeply and understanding that what is beyond the challenge that is in front of us lies beauty of giving beyond what we are able to see. Let us all master the Key to Chessed is having vision and understanding that our acts are not limited to the here and now but will have ripple effects to many others beyond the one person in front of us.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780