Kindness is Not Enough
Why are we kind?
In this week’s Torah reading, Abraham sends his loyal servant, Eliezer, to his birthplace, where his extended family resides, to find a suitable bride for his son, Isaac. As Eliezer approached the town, he prayed to God that he should succeed in finding the right girl with the following sign (24:14): He will ask a girl to give him a drink of water. Should she not only give him to drink, but also offer to pour water for his camels, that should be a sign that she is the right one. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Right away, Rebecca came to the well to draw water. Eliezer requested a drink from her, and after she replied in the affirmative, on her own initiative, she fetched water for the camels as well. Rashi explains that the sign Eliezer prayed for was not a random superstitious omen, but a demonstration of the qualities which he was searching for. Abraham’s trademark was kindliness, and that was the attribute he was seeking in a prospective wife for Isaac.
The act of giving her water to a stranger alone would have been an action of performing kindness on its own right. Seemingly, the fact the he included in his prayer that the girl should offer on her own initiative to pour water for the camels as well, indicates that he was searching for something more. He wasn’t just searching for anyone who would do kindness. He was looking for someone who loved the attribute of kindliness, which was the type of person who sought out opportunities to do acts of kindness to others even without being asked.
Rebecca’s behavior is an example for us in the proper attitude one should have in being kind. Helping others who turn to us for help is a great; but it’s not enough. The verse says (Micah 6:8), “And what does God demand of you, to do just and love kindliness.” This is a startling piece of information. It is an actual obligation upon us to love the trait of kindliness. If one were to fulfill every single favor asked of him, but did so begrudgingly, he would be considered a failure. While he would be rewarded for the actions he performed, he would be found to be missing an essential part in fulfilling this Mitzvah (commandment).
To better understand the importance of loving kindliness, The Chofetz Chaim (in Ahavas Chessed part 2 chapter 2) offers the following insight: When God created man, God infused in his spirit to have character traits similar to Him, which are essentially to do good for others and act with kindness toward others. Therefore, one who takes such a path in life carries a reflection of God with him, while one who doesn’t care for others, distances himself entirely from Him. Kindliness is God’s “business.” The whole purpose of creation was to bestow His kindness upon others. God is busy doing so constantly with the entire world, as He sustains all living beings and grants us an untold amount of pleasure. In order for us to properly follow the way of God in acquiring this trait, we must become fully involved in it. In order to make it part and parcel of our existence, we must learn to love the attribute of kindliness, to love that act of helping others.
Blumie thought she would not be able to go to work the next day. Due to an urgent situation, most playgroups had cancelled their sessions for the following day, and she had no one to watch her daughter. But then, she received a phone call from her cousin. After exchanging pleasantries her cousin said, “I run a playgroup, and I too had to cancel for tomorrow. I was calling to find out if you needed someone to watch your daughter. Since I am anyhow not working tomorrow, I would be glad to watch your daughter (free of charge).” Instead of just enjoying the day off, she prompted herself to think about someone else who might need help, and took the initiative to offer her help without even being certain that it was needed. This is the product of someone who loves kindliness.
For many of us, this trait does not come naturally. We suffer from laziness, and we often find ourselves to be self-centered to some degree. All in all, we are closer to it than we think. Everyone loves the concept being kind. When we hear a story of someone who acted selflessly to help others, we feel inspired and delighted. Deep down, we all truly love kindliness. It’s our pursuit of comfort which suppresses this feeling when it comes to actually looking to help others. With a little focus, we can tap into the love of doing good and kindness which exists within us, and slowly bring it to the surface. By adding some thought about the beauty of kindliness when an opportunity arises to do an act of kindness, we will begin a transformation of reflecting the virtues of God in ourselves.
Parshas Chayei Sara 5780/2019
firstname.lastname@example.org by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber