Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 20 March 2021 / 7 Nissan 5781

To Believe Is to Behave (Part 3)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

To Believe Is to Behave (Part 3)
(Lailah Gifty Akita)

“These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world, but whose principal remains intact in the World to Come. They are: honoring one’s parents; acts of kindness; early arrival at the study hall in the morning and the evening; hosting guests; visiting the sick; providing the wherewithal for a bride to marry; escorting the dead; praying with concentration; making peace between two people; and Torah study is the equivalent of them all.” (Tractate Shabbat 127a)

The second mitzvah mentioned is Gemilut Chasadim — acts of kindness. There is a fascinating dialogue in the Tractate Sotah (14a) that gives us insight into the potency of this mitzvah. Rabbi Chama the son of Rabbi Chanina asks, “What is the meaning of the verse that commands us to follow in the ways of G-d?” (Deuteronomy 13:5) After all, he points out, it is impossible for a human to do even a fraction of what G-d does. Obviously, the Torah is not commanding us to do things we cannot do. Rather, as our Sages explain, we are being instructed to emulate the attributes of G-d. Especially, we are taught to emulate His attribute of kindness.

Elsewhere in Shas, Rabbi Simlai explains that the Torah begins with an act of kindness — with G-d clothing Adam and Chava after they sinned — and the Torah concludes with an act of kindness — when G-d, Himself, buries Moses. Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg (1910-2012), one of the foremost Torah educators and leaders in our times, points out the apparent incongruity in describing the act of G-d clothing Adam and Chava as being the first act of kindness that He did. After all, there are many things that G-d did for Adam prior to clothing him. Rabbi Scheinberg explains that true Gemilut Chasadim is acting kindly even towards those who offend us. G-d’s creation of the world with kindness is obvious. But, Rabbi Simlai is teaching us that even after Adam and Chava sinned, Hashem continued to relate to them with kindness — even though they may not have deserved it. Rabbi Scheinberg’s teaching is truly remarkable. Gemilut Chasadim is not reserved only for those who meet with our approval, for those who act in the correct way. Gemilut Chasadim is something that we are obligated to do for everyone.

What is the significance of the Torah beginning and ending with acts of kindness? The Vilna Gaon clarifies that anyone who wants to know the central theme of a book should read its beginning and its end, as they will reveal the topic that wends its way throughout the book. Accordingly, if the Torah begins with Gemilut Chasadim and concludes with Gemilut Chasadim, it is clear that the entire Torah is founded on the precept of kind deeds. In fact, the Vilna Gaon, in one of the letters he wrote to his wife while travelling, emphasized that the underlying message imparted by the majority of the Torah is to bring joy to others.

Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher (1255-1340), one of the most brilliant and distinguished early authorities in Spain, writes in his fundamental philosophical treatise entitled Kad Hakemach that Gemilut Chasadim permeates every dimension of our existence — in both the spiritual realms and in the physical dimensions. All of these realms cannot exist without it. Everything requires kindness — and kindness has no end or limits.

The concept of Gemilut Chasadim is so intrinsic to the Torah that Rabbi Yishayahu Horowitz (1558-1630), an expert in the entire Torah, including its more abstruse dimensions, and the recognized rabbinic authority in Prague and Jerusalem, among other prestigious locations, writes in his magnum opus called Shnei Luchot Habrit that the gematria — a system that affords a numerical value to each Hebrew letter — of the words Gemilut Chasadim and the word Torah are identical: 611. In the more esoteric realms, concepts sharing the same gematria are not coincidental. Rather, they are an indication of a deep and spiritual association. If the gematria of Gemilut Chasadim and Torah is equal, it means that they share the very same essence.

In a beautiful insight, Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, doyen of the Torah V’Daath Yeshivah in New York and spiritual mentor and teacher to thousands of students around the world, explains why the classic engagement ring given by a chatan to his kallah is a diamond. One aspect of the beauty of a diamond is that, even though its base color is white, it refracts light in a way that causes the colors of the rainbow to be seen within its different facets. In the Kabbalistic texts, every color represents a different character trait. So, too, it is in marriage. Every trait and characteristic needs to be refined so that a person can become the most attentive, respectful and loving partner to their spouse that they can be. The Kabbalists teach that white represents kindness. And it is the trait of kindness that must serve as the foundation of every Jewish home. When Gemilut Chasadim permeates the house, it will be the catalyst that allows the marriage to thrive and blossom. Rabbi Wolfson explains that this is the hidden and sparkling message behind the diamond engagement ring.

To be continued…

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