Last week I shared a letter from a woman who responded to my recent columns on the terrifying events we see unfolding around the world.
I’ve often noted that everything in our history is replay. That which befell our forefathers and is recorded in the Torah is a sign to us. In reality, however, it is more than a sign, it is a roadmap that can bring us to our destination and change our very lives.
As I’ve written, when our forefathers in Egypt were afflicted with the most torturous suffering, there was a two-fold formula that saved them and was responsible for their redemption – prayer and gemilas chasadim, loving-kindness.
Our letter writer wondered about the meaning of gemilas chasadim. How does it differ from tzedakah, charity?
The Torah teaches us that G-d built the world on acts of loving-kindness.That which really makes life precious and worthwhile is the ability to give, to reach out to others, to light up their lives. By continuing G-d’s creative process through our generosity and acts of loving- kindness, we make a real difference in the world.
In our society we tend to associate giving with monetary gifts, but we are called upon to give of ourselves more than we are called on to give money. The Talmud teaches that for monetary gifts one receives six blessings but for acts of loving-kindness, 11 – nearly double.
Admittedly, reaching out to those in needy is not easy. My father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, a true servant of G-d, was able to do that, but for most of us such a goal is not so easily attainable. Nevertheless, we can and must learn to extend a kind word, a helping hand – at the very least a smile – to the many people who are suffering from loneliness, pain, worry, fear, family breakdown, illness, etc. Expressions of love and concern can infuse new life and hope in those who are hurting.
In the Torah world, giving in general and extending friendship in particular are accorded a special place. The Hebrew word for giving, natan, is a palindrome (a word spelled the same way backward and forward), teaching us that everything we give comes back to us a thousand-fold. The things we lavish on ourselves – jewelry, clothing, fine restaurants, vacations – may give us momentary pleasure, but the excitement soon fades. By contrast, that which we give to others stays with us forever: the memory of a smile, happiness in the eyes of those we’ve helped. Ultimately, we are the ones who receive when we give to others. And that is what gemilas chasadim is all about.
The Torah repeatedly reinforces this concept. When G-d commanded Moses to kindle the menorah lamp, He instructed him to “take the oil for lighting for himself” (Exodus 27:20). Our sages commented on the apparently superfluous words for himself, explaining that G-d wished to impress upon us that it’s not for His sake that we kindle the light but for our own illumination. When we bring light to the dark chambers of lonely, hurting hearts, that light will forever be reflected in our own soul.
A mother once consulted my esteemed and beloved husband, Rabbi Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l. She was having serious problems with her teenage son. Following the teachings of our Torah, my husband advised her to “love him more.”
We live in difficult times. There are so many enticements to tempt our children that it becomes very easy for them to stray. The teaching of our Patriarch Jacob, who on his deathbed reprimanded his son Reuven, is a perfect example of disciplining our children with love.