behar & bechukosai

The Parshos this week are Parshas Behar and Bechukosai. In Parshas Behar we are told the mitzvah of helping another Jew who has come upon rough times. “If your brother becomes poor … you should strengthen him…” (Leviticus 25:35). The concept of helping another Jew is very important in Jewish life. Indeed, one of the pillars upon which the world stands is chesed - kindness. Rav Dessler, in his classic work Michtav Meliyahu, explains that there are four situations that the Torah teaches us a novel approach to kindness:

1) Someone who does kindness to someone who doesn’t even need it: The Torah in Genesis tells us of the great kindness performed by Abraham with the three angels. (Genesis 18:1-8) Abraham gave each of them food and drink, not realizing that they were angels who don’t even need to eat or drink. Nonetheless, for the merit of his kindness in feeding them and giving them to drink, we are taught that many years later Hashem rewarded the Jewish people with food and drink as they traveled through the desert with the Manna and the miraculous well of water that traveled with them. This was payment for a kindness that the recipient didn’t even need!!!!!!
2) Someone who refrains from doing kindness with one who doesn’t really need it – how despised and disgraced they are!!! In the book of Deuteronomy the Torah tells us that we are not allowed to marry an Ammonite or Moabite, even if they convert. “Because they did not greet you with bread and water when you were traveling in the desert” (Deuteronomy 23:4-8). The medrash comments, “Don’t we know that all forty years that the Jews were in the desert they didn’t need food for they had the manna”? Nevertheless, this eternal punishment of not being allowed to marry into the Jewish people is given to them, for not doing the kindness of offering food and drink to someone who is traveling on the road. Rav Dessler explains: Even a wealthy person who is traveling on the road, feels better when he is offered help. He may not need this help financially, but he feels better when he or she is shown warmth. One who doesn’t think about the feelings of the traveler, and doesn’t feel for them, is lacking a true feeling for kindness.
3) One who does kindness with someone who he owes a favor to. When Moses saved the daughters of Jethro from those who were chasing them away from feeding their sheep, Jethro invited him in to his house and opened his house to him. In truth, Jethro was indebted to Moses for having saved his daughters. Nonetheless, three hundred years later, when King Saul was about to attack the Amalekites, he sent a message to the descendents of Jethro that lived near them to go away, so that they would not be hurt in any of the battles. He did this in gratitude for the favor their forefather Jethro had done three hundred years earlier by inviting Moses in (Samuel I : 15) Even though the favor Jethro did was brought about through feelings of gratitude, he was paid back for it.
4) One who gives a small amount, but it helps the person who gets the favor has benefit from it: When Boaz gave Ruth a small amount of kernels of grain, she was able to survive from it. In reward for that, in the end Boaz had the merit to have the Davidic line and the Messiah come from him and Ruth. This is the lesson of kindness – never look at the size of what we are giving, but at the need of the recipient that we are addressing.