This Parsha this week is Parshas Vayichi. In the Parsha the Torah tells us of the end of the life of Jacob. As Jacob sensed that the end of his life was approaching, he called his son Joseph and asked him “do with me kindness and truth; don’t bury me in Egypt. “ (Genesis 47-29) Jacob asked Joseph to swear to him that he will make sure to bring his body to Egypt to be buried. The commentaries point out that the request to do “kindness and truth” is odd. When we do something for someone, if we are obligated to do it, it is not kindness, it is truth; if we are not obligated to do it then it is not truth, rather it is kindness. Why did Jacob call the act of bringing his body to Egypt “kindness and truth”?
The famed Dubno Magid, answers with a story. There was once a wealthy man named Berish who wanted to do his friend Chaim a favor. He wanted to give Chaim a thousand dollars. However, Berish knew that if his family would hear about this they would be furious. They might even try to take away the money from Chaim. He devised a plan to avoid the problem. He wrote a legal document that obligated himself to Chaim for a thousand dollars. He gave the document to Chaim, now certain that Chaim would be able to get the money he wanted him to have.
When Berish gave the money to Chaim now, that is not kindness. That is truth – for once Berish wrote the document he was obligated to give the money to Chaim. The kindness that occurred here was the act of writing the document, for that was something that Berish had no obligation to do.
So too, the Dubno Magid explains, Jacob knew that Joseph would not be able to bury him in Israel unless he could tell Pharaoh that he was obligated to do so. Therefore Jacob told Joseph to swear that he would bring him to Israel. Now there was both kindness and truth involved here. The fact that Joseph obligated himself to bring Jacob’s body to Israel was kindness. Once he obligated himself to do so, now burying Jacob in Israel was keeping the truth.
This idea applies often to us. We feel that we would like to start doing a mitzvah a little better, or more often, but are scared that when push comes to shove we will not always do it. What we must do is find a way to obligate ourselves to it – to make a clear circumstance that will always having us do this mitzvah. For example, if a person feels that he or she would really like to make sure that they always say the Shema, but is scared that they may miss or forget to do so. If they obligate themselves, or commit to give a dollar to charity every time they forget, they will see that they will no longer miss saying shema. The commitment to penalize themselves when they miss is kindness. However, now once they have obligated themselves, keeping this obligation is truth. This is a very practical way for us to advance our level of observance step by step.