It had been a long time since he had spoken with his father. Too long. A few months back, they had gotten into a heated disagreement, and things hadn’t been the same since. It wasn’t always like this, of course. Growing up, he was an only child, and his father had been his teacher, his role model, and in many ways, his best friend. He couldn’t help but wonder how they had gotten to this point. They never fought, ever. “That’s it,” he thought, “I’m going to call him; I’m going to set things straight and schedule a special breakfast for next week.” He was about to pick up the phone when he looked at his schedule. He was pretty booked for the next few days, so it made more sense to call to schedule next week. He also had a meeting in fifteen minutes, so their conversation would be curtailed if he called now. He made a note to remember, smiling to himself, proud that he was being the bigger person, and went back to preparing for his meeting.
That Sunday he got the call. He almost dropped the phone. His father had been in an accident and had passed away. He couldn’t control himself; he burst out in tears – not only because he had lost his father, but because he never had the chance to tell him how much he loved him, how important he was to him, and how much he treasured their relationship. If only he had made that call. Now, it was too late. The opportunity was lost forever.
How Do You Start Your Day?
When you wake up in the morning, how do you start your day? Many people immediately take out their phones, look at their messages, and are bombarded by a rush of incoming data. But in doing so, we begin our day in a reactive state, allowing external stimuli to become the foundation of our day. With that starting point, it is all too easy for the entire day to become one long reactive experience.
Highly successful people do not immediately look at their phones upon waking. Instead of allowing external stimuli to guide their waking thoughts, they replace it with mindful, guided, and goal-oriented thinking, generating proactive momentum to their morning. This allows them to choose what to think about and what to focus on, enabling them to accomplish their goals throughout the day. Davening in the morning accomplishes this exact objective, providing us with a structured way to begin our day with mindfulness and directed thought.
During the chanukas haMishkan, the inauguration of the Tabernacle, the Nesiim (princes) of each Shevet contributed spectacular gifts toward the Mishkan (Bamidbar, perek 7). Chazal explain that these donations were intended to be a rectification for their previous sin (See Rashi, Bamidbar 7:3; Sifri, Naso 1:150). Earlier in the Torah, the Nesiim are criticized for their inappropriate approach regarding their donations toward the building of the Mishkan (Rashi, Shemos 35:27). They delayed in donating gifts for the Mishkan, and in the interim the Jewish People donated everything needed for the Mishkan, leaving the Nesiim with nothing to give.
However, it is important to note that their intentions were pure. They intended to wait and see what was still needed in the Mishkan after the rest of Klal Yisrael had finished donating, and they would then donate whatever was still needed, filling in the rest. The Nesiim assumed that if everybody donated simultaneously, there would be many overlapping gifts, while other essential things might be left out completely. The Nesiim wanted to fill in the gaps, ensuring that the donation process was completed properly.
However, when the giving stopped and the dust settled, there was nothing left to give. Klal Yisrael had surpassed all expectations, donating every single required item and even exceeding the required quotas (Shemos 36:5). The Nesiim, due to their delay, lost out on their chance to contribute toward the Mishkan.
The Nesiim are criticized for their lack of alacrity in donating to the Mishkan, and it is apparent that they realized their mistake, as they tried to rectify it by contributing elaborate gifts during the chanukas haMishkan. However, we must ask what the Nesiim did that was so improper. After all, their calculation seems sound, if not ideal. Why donate something that has already been given? Isn’t it worthwhile to ensure that your gift will be useful? Why then do we view their actions, or lack thereof, in such a negative light? Furthermore, how do the Nesiim’s gifts in Parashas Naso rectify their mistake? In order to understand this episode, we must first understand the nature and meaning of chesed, loosely translated as kindness and giving.
The spiritual concept of chesed is the ability to expand beyond one’s limited self and contribute toward others. As the pasuk in Tehillim says, “Olam chesed yibaneh – The world was built through chesed” (Tehillim 89:3). Hashem created this world as an act of expansion and pure kindness, with the goal of giving to each and every one of us. Thus, when we give to others, we emulate Hashem.
Levels of Chesed
Within the basic character trait of chesed, there are varying levels and degrees. For example, if a person is in financial need, there are several different ways one can help him. The most obvious form of chesed is giving money, but this is far from ideal. Short-term monetary gifts do not usually solve a long-term struggle with poverty; the person will therefore remain dependent and poor. Being dependent on another is shameful, and we do not want recipients of charity to feel dependent and incapable of earning their own sustenance. A far better option is to extend a loan, as this enables a person to retain independence and dignity. However, the greatest level of chesed is helping a person get a job or develop a means of sustaining themselves, as this provides both sustenance and genuine independence. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This principle is at the root of a phrase we read every day in Shemoneh Esreh. In the first beracha, we describe Hashem as “gomel chasadim – the One Who bestows kindness.” However, the Hebrew word “gomel” literally means to wean, as in when a mother stops breastfeeding her child. This seems like the antithesis of chesed, as it is an act of cutting someone off and the cessation of giving. However, there is an intrinsic connection between chesed and weaning: the greatest chesed is to give someone independence, to wean them off of reliance and dependency, allowing them to spread their own wings. This is the chesed Hashem does for us: He gives us the independent ability to choose, and in doing so, He gives us the ability to earn our own reward. We are not given our reward for free; we earn it through our choices, our internal moral victories, and our constant existential struggle to grow.
This is often the biggest challenge of a parent: letting their child go, letting them blossom and flourish. Only once children are given independence can they finally learn to become themselves. This is also why the greatest teachers don’t create dependent students; they create independent thinkers, students who continue to grow and flourish long after they leave their teacher’s classroom. This is the deeper meaning behind the unusual language of the Mishna in Avos, which instructs us: “Haamidu talmidim harbeh,” which is usually understood to mean “teach many students” (Avos 1:2). However, it literally means “stand up” many students. In other words, a great teacher helps their students develop their own legs to stand on. In our next article, we will delve deeper into this fascinating topic of chesed and try to clarify the underlying mistake that the Nesiim made.