I closed last week’s column, which concerned the benefits we receive from performing acts of chesed (kindness), by noting that just as a parent is overjoyed when his or her children reach out to one another with a helping hand, so too is G-d exceedingly pleased when He sees us acting in a spirit of unity and loving-kindness.
Ours is a generation that has yet to learn this lesson. Yes, I realize American Jewish communal philanthropy has done so much for Jews throughout the world. Yes, many individual Jews are paragons of chesed. But far too many of us take the attitude that we’ve done enough: “I gave to that charity.” “I helped that person.” “I did mine, now you do yours.”
We’re all guilty, to one extent or another. “There’s just so much I can do.” “I’m pulled from every side.” “I’m not Bill Gates.”
But we are in a time of serious crisis. We must turn over a new leaf and go beyond our present levels of chesed. We must make that extra effort and reach beyond ourselves.
Once again I refer to the teachings of my saintly father, whose wisdom speaks to us today as it did in days gone by. His chesed, his love for others, and his pure goodness surpassed anything I’ve since encountered.
He is my role model and he can be a role model for everyone. He always taught that a little bit of chesed can save a person’s life. When he spoke of chesed he wasn’t necessarily referring to writing a check but to something deeper than that: a smile, an open door, kind eyes, an understanding heart, wisdom, guidance.
I never tire of telling how every Yom Kippur night my father would get up in front of his congregation and start out by saying, “Tonight is Kol Nidrei.There are people here who don’t speak to their fathers and mothers, their in-laws, their siblings. You must make shalom for your tefillahs to ascend. Shalom is the key with which we can unlock the Heavenly Gates and evoke G-d’s Mercy, His help, His salvation. Before we can commence we must learn to forgive each other and reach out with genuine warmth and love to our flesh and blood. There can be no room in the heart of a Jew for anger, animosity, or vengeance.”
As my father would say, we need to purify our hearts with the most perfect cleansing solution, the ingredients of which are guaranteed to make even the most ugly stains disappear. That ingredient is unadulterated chesed.
Let me give you directions for the use of this magic chesed cleanser. A heavy dose of smiles, every day and as often as possible; an eagerness to help others; and a respectful manner of addressing the people with whom we come into contact.
Young people should know that how they treat their parents and teachers will go a long way toward establishing stellar chesed habits that will stay with them throughout their lives.
Let me tell you a story. My daughter calls me every morning. Her granddaughter – my great-granddaughter – spent many weeks at her side this summer. One morning that little girl, all of three years old, woke up late and she asked my daughter, “ Bubbie, did you call your mother yet?”
A few hours later the little girl heard a Hatzolah ambulance go by.
“Bubbie,” she said, running over to my daughter, “call up your mother right away and find out if she’s all right.”
This from a three-year-old child. Read those words again and place them in your heart. Now try to visualize Hashem asking you, after 120 years, “Did you call your mother? Did you?”