By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are the three pioneers of Judaism. Each one introduced a vital component of Yiddishkeit. Avraham Avinu initiated chesed, kindness, Yitzchak Avinu demonstrated avodah, Divine service such as prayer, and Yaakov Avinu introduced us diligent Torah study. It is important to note that Hashem chose to start the Jewish people with the cornerstone of chesed with Avraham Avinu. He could have started our ancestry with Torah or avodah but He wanted us to realize that the very first building block of a ben Torah is the foundation of kindness. This is consistent with the Torah adage, “Derech eretz kodmah laTorah,” that proper behavior must precede Torah in order for the Torah to thrive and succeed.
What exactly is a chesed-personality? Let me give you an example. Recently, I was asked to address ninth and tenth grade boys. The lecture was held in the tenth grade room and the ninth graders were told to bring in chairs for themselves. As each one brought his own chair to take a seat, I told them that the great mussar personality, Rav Yisroel Salanter, Zt”l, Zy”a, would tell two people who were carrying chairs for themselves to a specific destination ,that they should instead carry the chair for one another. In reality, they are doing the same thing but instead of doing it for themselves and it being a selfish act, now they are doing a kindness for each other.
Developing a quest to do for another is the hallmark of a chesed personality. Some people can walk down the block and identify right away which car is a Lexus, which is a Cadillac, a Buick and which is a Chevrolet. Other people can differentiate between a daffodil, a tulip, a daisy and a lilac, a rose and a zinnia. Others will tell you that this bird is a sparrow or a robin, that one is a blue jay, another is a parrot and the big one is an eagle. Each of these specialists has a trained eye for their own particular interest. We, as fortunate children of Avraham Avinu, need to sensitize our eyes to spot chesed opportunities
Parents who are raising children have to be mindful of molding their children into chesed-personalities. We can teach them to notice a friend who doesn’t have a snack at recess, and how they could discretely share their own. We can advise them to detect a boy or girl who doesn’t have a good pen or pencil in class, and offer them an extra. All of us should try to perceive a gloomy person who we can cheer up or a lonely person who we can befriend. The chesed personality does not have to be told that his colleague is out of work. He’ll notice the telltale signs of his hanging around and he’ll be quick to offer some networking advice. A chesed personality, when he or she parks the car, makes sure to do it in a way that they leave enough room for someone else to park as well.
Rav Avigdor Miller, Zt”l, Zy”a, would say that if you’re married, you never lack from opportunities to do chesed. Indeed one who is married should ask him or herself a blunt question: Am I a kind spouse? What are some manifestations of a kind spouse? Do you get up quietly in the morning so as not to awaken your partner? Do you look to pick up your spouse’s favorite snack? Are you happy if your mate is having a good time – even it you’re not? These are again some features of the chesed personality.
Kindness is a work in progress. We can always build on our arsenal of opportunities. At our shul, we can put away seforim and bend down to pick up litter from the floor. We can close the lights when we leave, brings boxes of tissues, tape up a ripped siddur. These are all methods to do kindness for the rabim, the community. We must also remember the Torah admonition, Mi’bsorcha al tisaleim – From your own flesh do not conceal yourself,” which means one must practice chesed with one’s relatives. If we have a relative who is ill or not married, they demand our special attention. The fact that these offerings are often times not rewarding makes it an even greater chesed opportunity.
May it be the will of Hashem that we develop ever growing chesed opportunities and in that merit may Hashem shower us with all of His many varieties of Divine kindness.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’ articles.
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