There are two main reasons people are kind. First, they want something in return, e.g., praise, honor, or they hope the person will return the favor. The second, more exalted reason why people are kind is because it is the right thing to do; they give for the sake of giving.
Selfless giving is rooted in the commandment, (Leviticus 19:18), “…You shall love your fellow as yourself…” Just as you look after your own wellbeing, no strings attached, God commands us to look after the wellbeing of others, without expecting anything in return.
Although every act of kindness is meritorious, regardless of one’s intentions, there is no comparison between an act done from the ego, wanting something in return, to an act done from the heart, from a place of love and care.
The mitzvah is to love your fellow as yourself. Loving your fellow begins with loving yourself and those closest to you, your family. Doing kind acts for others must not come at the expense of taking care of yourself and your family. Once your needs are cared for, the Torah commands you to widen that circle of care, as best you can, past yourself, past your family, past your friends and neighbors, to include others, people you may not know and may never see again.
From a biological perspective, we are all one family, descendants of Adam and Eve. From a spiritual perspective, our souls are rooted in the collective soul of Adam. (The collective soul of the Jewish people is a further layer of connection). While we may not feel kinship toward a stranger, a strong bond exists between us.
With greater connection, comes greater responsibility. The closest connection between two human beings is between a parent and child and there is no greater sense of responsibility than that of a parent to their child. To a lesser degree, through our connection to every human being, and especially to a fellow Jew, we have a responsibly to help those in need.
Moses spoke of this responsibility to others when the Tribes of Gad and Reuben approached him and asked for permission to settle in Transjordan and not enter the land of Israel. Moses at first thought they were trying to shirk their responsibility to help their brethren defeat the Canaanite nations. He asked them incredulously (Numbers 32:6), “…Your brothers should go to war, while you stay here!?”
To Moses, it was unfathomable that a person would sit on the sidelines while their brethren struggled alone; to do so, would go against the very essence of Torah values. (The Tribes of Gad and Reuben replied that they would certainly fight alongside their brethren; they just wanted to settle in Transjordan.)
We are all fighting personal battles: To find a job or a spouse, to overcome health, relationship or financial difficulties. While we fight our own battles, there is a tendency to ignore the battles of others. But Moses is asking us, whenever we are tempted to turn a blind eye to the difficulties of others, “Your brothers should go to war, while you stay here!?”
The greater the blessings in our lives, the greater our responsibility to use those blessings to help others. Why would God give us blessings, if not to use a portion of them for the greater good? Are we better or more deserving than those who lack? Of course not; the tables can easily be turned.
Use your resources to help others while you still can. When our time comes, we will leave everything behind; only our mitzvot and good deeds will accompany us to the next world.
Because we are all one unit, individual parts of a greater whole, when we help another, we are really helping ourselves; their battles are our battles and their triumphs will be our triumphs. When we go to battle together, helping each other as best we can, with God’s help, together, we will overcome our challenges.
Pick at least one person going through a difficult time and make helping them your personal project. Some examples: Someone you know is sick or having a rough time, call or visit regularly to give them encouragement. Someone you know is looking for a job or spouse, make inquires for them. A family you know is experiencing financial difficulties, give funds to the local rabbi to anonymously offer them an interest free loan or cash gift. If you have guidance or expertise which you think would benefit someone, see if they are interested.
To become Godlike
The drive to do good often goes beyond our connection and sense of responsibility to others. At times, after meeting our basic needs, we spend most of our energy helping others. What motivates us to do that? To focus more on others than on ourselves?
It is the drive to be Godlike, to be transcendent. God lacks nothing and is completely focused on giving to His children (although in the moment, we may not perceive His kindness to us). When helping others becomes our primary focus, we fulfill the commandment to be Godlike, to, “…Walk in His ways (Deuteronomy, 28:9).”
We learn how to be kind from God. For example, marrying people off (God married off Adam and Eve), visiting the sick (God visited Abraham after his circumcision), comforting mourners (God comforted Isaac after Abraham died), and burying the dead (God buried Moses).
The Sages teach that one of the highest forms of charity is to give anonymously, where neither the donor nor the recipient know each other’s identity. In that case, the ego is removed. There will be no expressions of appreciation or returning of the favor; just pure, unadulterated giving. To do that is to be like God who gives to us, but needs nothing in return. (Whatever God asks of us is for our own benefit.)
We need God’s help with everything, including performing acts of kindness. When we do good deeds, we not only become Godlike, we unite with Him and He channels His goodness through us. The more we emulate our Creator through acts of kindness, the more we become one with Him. This intimate connection with God is electrifying. Often people who are immersed in acts of kindness defy nature, in both their energetic drive to help others and in what they are able to accomplish. They are plugged into an infinite source of power.
There is so much suffering and darkness in the world, opportunities to be a force of goodness in people’s lives. Each day, look for ways for God’s goodness to shine through you and go light up the world.
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