By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 65 – All It Takes is a Bit of Thoughtfulness
Why does she need a new pair of shoes for every one of the shloshah regalim if she is only entitled to a new set of clothing once a year? The way the Gemara phrases this question is quite pithy: “Is this Tanna stripped naked and wearing shoes?!” In other words, if she has no choice but to make do with worn clothes for a good chunk of the year, then why does she need to have new shoes for every one of the Moadim?!
The answer, explains the Gemara, is that the Mishna is referring to someone who lives in rugged, mountainous terrain. In that type of locale, back then at least, it was simply impossible to manage without three new pairs of shoes a year. And why, concludes the Gemara, is the husband supposed to give them to her each Yomtov? That is an extra insight, agav orchei, that the Tanna is teaching us: that he should give them to her each Yomtov so she will get simcha from them.
This sounds like a great example of something Rabbeinu Yonah says in Shaarei Teshuva. In the third shaar, paragraph thirteen, he writes: “Amongst the mitzvos asei are some of the chamuros of the Torah…and so too bestowing kindnesses which is a mitzvas asei…for a person must put forth effort to seek out the good of his nation, and to apply himself with the work of his soul for the betterment of his fellow – whether that person is rich or poor; and this is from the chamuros and ikarim that are required of a person as the pasuk says, ‘…what is good and what does Hashem require of you, but to carry out mishpat and to love chesed’.”
From these words of Rabbeinu Yonah we can see, in addition to the central importance of this mitzvah, that a basic, defining characteristic of doing chesed is the thoughtfulness that is meant to go into it. Really doing for others means to apply one’s power of concerned concentration to figure out what it is that will be helpful and beneficial.
Isn’t that exactly what our Gemara is telling us? You are anyway going to give her a new pair of shoes three times a year, so why not give them to her when they will be the most meaningful to her? That’s real chesed. That means that you are not just doing, but doing with thoughtfulness.
It is said in the name of Rabi Yisrael Salanter that when engaging in the avodah of teshuva during the Elul and Yamim Noraim season, one should focus his main efforts on rectifying the “little” aveiros since those are the ones that potentially arouse the greatest middas ha’din. Now, why should it be that it is precisely the “little” aveiros that arouse the Heavenly attribute of strict justice? Because, achar meiah v’esrim, a person may just hear the following, “Ok, those big aveiros for which you had a tremendous yeitzer hara, we can try to find some leniency. After all, it was so incredibly difficult for you. But what about all these minor infractions? These should have been easy for you to correct and avoid, and you didn’t bother!”
This is not to say that one can just merrily ignore his big aveiros and think to himself, “shalom alecha nafshi”. Obviously not. What it is meant to convey is that we cannot overlook the relatively small, easy things; and that sometimes it may even be the most appropriate thing to do to focus our primary efforts on fixing and bettering those.
Now, you may be wondering, where am I going with all this? After all, it’s Pesach, not Elul. What I wanted to suggest, albeit not necessarily b’toras pshat, is that perhaps part of the reason why Rabbeinu Yonah defines the mitzvah of chesed as being from the chamuros is because of this yesod of Rabi Yisrael Salanter. Granted, chesed can oftentimes be difficult to do. Sometimes, even extremely so. However, there are many times when it would have been so easy. And the only reason we didn’t do it is simply because we were lacking a bit of thoughtfulness.
And, I would like to suggest, it is that form of “easy” chassadim that we should perhaps try to focus on. For example, you’re at the grocery store. It’s late Thursday afternoon and you’re shopping for Shabbos. Seven year old Esti is with you in tow. You’ve finally gotten through the whole long shopping list that your wife provided, and now you’re up to selecting desert. There is a sale on rugelach and cookies. You really don’t care which one it will be, and you arbitrarily begin reaching out for the one which is closer to your hand…
Stop for a moment, and think! How would it make Esti feel if you were to turn to her and say, “Esti, would you like to choose what we will have for desert this Shabbos? We could either get the rugelach or the cookies, and you’ve been such a big, helpful girl today that you deserve to be the one to choose!”? Won’t that make her feel like a million dollars?
It’s such an easy chesed, isn’t it?! Not to mention that such actions also go a long way in enhancing the overall relationship between parent and child, which of course is in turn a great facilitator for the overarching mitzvah of chinuch…
Or take a different scenario. Davening just finished and you get up to put your siddur back on the shelf. Next to you sits elderly Mr. Farberstein. It’s always something to see how he pushes himself to shuffle to and from Shul. His mesiras nefesh for teffilah b’tzibur is truly an inspiration. But there is no reason to see more of it than necessary! You are anyway headed to the bookcase to put away your siddur. Why not offer to put away his as well? It may only save him a few steps or moments, but for someone like him that can be very significant!
The list of examples of easy, but super meaningful chesed that come up in our lives all the time is practically endless. There are so many opportunities to easily merit so many more mitzvos and to greatly enhance those that we are already doing. And sometimes all it takes is a bit of thoughtfulness.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.