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The Systems of the Jewish Year

A Thought for the Week

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Today we review the story of Abraham, the founding father of Judaism. From what we know about Avrohom Avinu we can be very proud of our roots. Avrohom was a great philosopher. Avrohom was a great teacher. Avrohom was a man of unyielding principals - ready to give up everything, including his life, for what he believed. He was a brilliant theologian - the discoverer of G-d Himself, introducing the Creator to the world. Avrohom had all the characteristics of leadership and holiness appropriate to the founder of Yiddishkeit. Yet, there was another characteristic in the portfolio of Avrohom Avinu, which seems to override the rest. Avrohom was a very kind man. He was a baal chesed.

Avrohom had an open tent policy. He and his wife ran a soup kitchen that was open to people of every faith and persuasion. They listened to people’s problems. They gave tzedaka. This trait may seem like a side point, a luxury issue for a founding leader. Yet whereas many of the stories of Avrohom are Midrashic, the stories of Avrohom’s kindness are clearly written in the Torah. In Brisk I once heard, that the Chofetz Chaim was asked what he thought the overarching characteristic of Rav Chaim Brisker was. To us Reb Chaim is considered the father of the Yeshiva world. He taught the world how to learn. He was the founder of the Brisker method of learning, he was the analyst and educator par excellence. The Chofetz Chaim responded, “Reb Chaim is a gevaldige baal chesed.” It is well known that Reb Chaim’s home was always open. At a time and place where starving parents could not take care of their children, Reb Chaim would find babies on his doorstep and raise them as his own. The Chofetz Chaim pointed out that this aspect of Reb Chaim wasn’t a wrinkle in his personality. Reb Chaim, like Avrohom Avinu, was defined by his kindness.

I mentioned that I had an important conversation with my Rebbe on Erev Yom Kippur. I asked him what he thought about everything that was going on. (It was a week or so after the WTC attack). He told me that he thought there was an awesome midas hadin (judgment) being exercised by G-d at this time. When there is a din, it affects everything. It affects our safety, our relationships, our health and our livelihood. It is our job, he said, to change the times and turn them in to times of chesed and rachamim - we can only do this by increasing in acts of chesed.

We know this is what works. What do I mean by chesed? In my mind I started to list all kinds of chesed that we should increase in until I realized that I myself am missing the point. It’s not about doing acts of kindness, although that is obviously very important, it’s about being a “baal chesed.” If I give money to a starving family I am not yet a baal chesed. If I pray three times a day that they should be as wealthy as I am, then, I am a baal chesed. It’s a whole attitude in life, to be genuinely happy with other people’s success and good fortune. To greet every person with open heart and warm smile. To see the good in others and not be critical or judgmental. To have a good eye and a good heart. These are the things that change families, communities and the world.

Someone emailed me the proceedings of a non-Jewish chat group recently. A group of teenagers were trying to figure out what they could do to combat terrorism in the world. The suggestion went from volunteering for the US Arm Forces to cleaning up Ground Zero. At the end they all agreed that the best thing all Americans can do is to become kinder, gentler people. If everyone would become kind and gentle, they argued, there would be no terrorism. As true as that is, our argument is even more compelling. By being baalei chesed we can actually have an affect on G-d.  Making a human being feel good in Monsey will directly affect a Jew living in Gaza. The reason Avrohom’s chesed was the most important aspect of his personality is because it did the most for the world. The change in attitude he created amongst thousands weaved the masses together, opened them up to each other and changed the attitude of G-d Himself. If we can accomplish this we too will know only safety, nachas and happiness for all of our days.

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