5 - Situations - And Upon Deeds of Kindness

Perek Aleph, Mishna Bays Part 1. V'Al G'milus Chassadim - And Upon Deeds of Kindness

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Set up a safeguard to help you work on a goal regarding interpersonal relationships.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.


Lesson #5


Perek Aleph, Mishna Bays Part 1

V’Al G’milus Chassadim – And Upon Deeds of Kindness

Story(based on a true story)

I can put myself back into those years in a blink of an eye.  I had three small children and one on the way, my husband’s salary dropped due to a downturn, and one of my kids developed a medical issue that required many visits and evaluations not covered by insurance.  I was fresh out of graduate school, no job, and running from place to place and task to task.  There was no time, and just enough money to get by, most of the time.  

One Shabbos I found myself in a shiur on chessed, and how important it is to do.  It all sounded lovely and a lot like what I did in another era of my life, but in the last few years I couldn’t remember having the strength or resources to do anything for anyone else.  Invite guests?  I could point them toward a room and wave hello, but my kids needed every second I had.  Make meals?  No time to deliver them, no guarantee I would

have “adult food” in the house.  Give rides?  When?  My schedule was too unpredictable.

I knew, and the woman giving the speech emphasized, that often a woman’s job is to do chessed in her home, with her own family.  But I also knew that I needed some way to reach outside myself and my home, to be aware of the greater world and to help, to feel myself as a helper.  It just couldn’t be in the ways I had always done so before.

Later that week I decided to take a minute and look through my community’s bulletin board.  We needed a small dresser and I hoped someone might be offering or selling one.   I struck out, but then I noticed an “item needed”--someone needed study books for the same professional exam I had recently taken after finishing grad school.  

I had those books, and I certainly had no need for them anymore.  I sent off an e-mail, and within two days a woman from my community was on my doorstep picking them up.  She kept thanking me for what a big help it was, and I just said, “It’s no big deal.” since it wasn’t.  But later I realized that while it was easy for me, it helped her a lot.   

So I started looking for things I could do that would be easy but important.  No, I couldn’t watch anyone’s kids--in fact, I had chessed girls coming to help watch mine.  But I could hold doors for people instead of rushing in and out of the store.  And I could smile and say hello at the gas station, call someone who left their van door open and tell someone who looked lost in the aisles where to find the canned fruit.  And sometimes I was uniquely suited to help where it would be difficult for someone else.  For instance, I could give referrals to some of the numerous doctors I used.  All of these opportunities were out there, and I had been doing them sporadically, but now I was on a crusade.  I gave myself credit for what I has already done and looked for more.  This was a chessed goal I could do, a way to stretch within my life at the time.  I would just need to keep stretching, and keep reassessing whether I could do a bit more as life moved on.

About a year later, a neighbor had a baby and I decided I could handle making a meal.  I slowly became able to go back to some of the things I had done before that I enjoyed, and I continue to try to grow.  I believe strongly that where I am now is due to the fact that I did not let chessed slip out of my life.  I made myself help others, and doing those things helped me too.   

I slowed down a little, I appreciated others, and I felt important and useful.  I felt less guilty about what I couldn’t do, and about having to receive chessed, because I knew I was doing something.  It showed in my interactions with my family.  And I grew in my avodas HaShem.  These acts and the awareness that comes with them, combined with all the work I do for my family, really make me feel that I am helping hold up the world:  o’lam chessed yi’ba’neh.

Pirkay Avos:

“Shimon Hatzadik … haya o’mer, al sh’losha d’varim ha’olam o’mayd, al haTorah, v’al ha’avoda, v’al g’mi’lus chasudim.”

“Shimon Hatzadik used to say, the world stands upon three things, upon Torah, upon Divine service, and upon deeds of kindness.” (Perek Aleph, Mishne Bays).

Kindness is the purpose of creation and the basis of its construction.  Our sages teach us that “the kindness we show each other is more beloved to G-d than the thousand burnt offerings of Solomon” (Yalkut Shimoni, Hoshea 522).  Indeed, the trait of kindness determined that man should be created (Beraishis Rabba).  Our sages teach that when G-d wished to create man, some angelic beings, such as those representing truth and peace, opposed his creation, for mankind would be false and warlike.  But the angelic force of kindness argued for man’s creation, for he would perform kind deeds.

From the perspective of truth and peace, man should not have been created.  If a person does not perform kind deeds, he removes the sole justification for his existence.  In the two instances in the Torah where total destruction at the hand of heaven was decreed--the Flood and the overthrow of Sedom and Amora--the reason was the deterioration of kindness.

The term “olam”, the universe or world, may also refer to each individual Jew who is a world in his own right.  According to this approach, Torah, avoda and g’mi’lus chasudim are not distinct entities but rather three different ways of infusing our life with the spirit of Torah.  We can attain this specifically by making a commitment to observe Torah and mitzvos, by accepting HaShem’s sovereignty over every aspect of our life, which is a form of avoda known as kabalas ole malchus shamayim, and through our acts of g’mi’lus chessed whereby we are supporting the Torah.  

Acts of kindness may be expressed in numberless ways:  financial aid, visiting the sick, helping people get married, attending a funeral, comforting mourners, redeeming prisoners, entertaining guests, giving helpful advice, offering a word of encouragement, or simply smiling at someone.  Because the avenues of kindness are so numerous, the Torah simply mentions the general obligation to treat others with a generous spirit and an open hand, summing up the matter in the command, “Love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).  

In order to perform this mitzva properly, a person must perfect his character.  There can be no genuine kindness where jealousy rages, hatred festers, and the ego admires itself.  These must be replaced with generosity, love and empathy.  

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

Discussion Question Options:

In what ways does doing chessed help the doer?

How can we figure out what are the right types of chessed for us?  Should we stay comfortable, or do we need to stretch out of our comfort zone?

How can we do chessed so that the recipients don’t feel like “chessed cases”?

Stretch of the Week:

Look for an opportunity to do something small to help someone else out.


Stretch Of The Week