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Shabbat Message: Make Every Day Count

Friday, October 29, 2021
Posted by: Rabbi Barry Gelman

וְאַבְרָהָ֣ם זָקֵ֔ן בָּ֖א בַּיָּמִ֑ים

ֹֽAbraham was now old, advanced in years... (Gen. 24:1)

This verse can also be translated to mean that “Abraham came to his old age with all his days.” Perhaps this means that looking back on Abraham’s life, we can conclude that there was never a wasted day.

What does never wasting a day mean?

Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin (1784 – 1858) taught that if one lets a day go by without doing an act of kindness for someone else, then that day does not count as day in the person’s life. A similar idea is taught by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz who wrote,

עולם חסד יבנה'. על כן יזהר במאד מאד בגמילות חסדים. ויראה שלא יהא שום יום מימי חייו בלי גמילות חסדים, או בגופו או בממונו, או בנפש

“I will build this world with kindness” (Psalms 89:3). Therefore, one must be very careful to perform acts of kindness and see to it that there not be a single day of one’s life that does not include acts of kindness performed either with one’s body, money or soul.”

Now we can understand what the Torah means when it says that Abraham came to his old age with “all of his days”. Abraham never let a day go by without doing an act of kindness, therefore, he came to his old age with “all of his days”, all of his days counted. Abraham’s association with kindness comes from his welcoming three strangers into his home and showering them with abundant kindness and care.

Sholom Noach Berezovsky , building on the words of Rabbi Horowitz, explains the various modes of chessed.

Chessed with our money is accomplished by giving charity and loaning money.

Chessed with our body is done by visiting the sick, attending a funeral and returning a lost object.

Chessed with our home (like Abraham) is accomplished when we welcome guests and the needy into our home. This type of kindness can be extended to both the rich and the poor. (See here for the high value of welcoming in guests). This is highlighted by the Rabbinic teaching - יוֹסֵי בֶן יוֹחָנָן אִישׁ יְרוּשָׁלַיִם אוֹמֵר, יְהִי בֵיתְךָ פָתוּחַ לִרְוָחָה, וְיִהְיוּ עֲנִיִּים בְּנֵי בֵיתֶךָ Yose ben Yochanan (a man) of Jerusalem used to say: Let thy house be wide open, and let the poor be members of thy household. (Avot 1:5)

Rabbi Berezovsky then stresses that the greatest type of Chessed is emotional kindness, what he calls Chessed of the soul. This includes comforting people when they are feeling down. He further points out that empathy is the greatest example of emotional kindness as sadness is made so much worse when one feels that they are not understood. This may be the meaning of וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָֽה׃ - Love your fellow as yourself (Lev. 19:18). To truly love and care about someone is to know how they feel just like one understands their own feelings.

I am very fond of the following story that illustrates this point.

The Sassover Rebbe enters an inn, and sits beside two local peasants. As the two peasants sit at the bar and drink, they begin to fall into a drunken stupor. One turns to his comrade and says, "Tell me, friend, do you love me?" His colleague responds, "Of course I love you. We're drinking companions. Naturally I love you." Then the first one said to his friend, "Then tell me, friend, what causes me pain?" His colleague said, "How should I know what hurts you? I'm just your drinking buddy." He said, "If you loved me you would know what causes me pain."

It is told that from that day on, every time the Sassover Rebbe taught, he taught his students that to love another human being means to know what causes them pain, to know what makes them suffer, to know what makes them hurt. And it is a small step from knowing what it is that causes someone's heart to break, to feeling mobilized to do something to alleviate the pain. (https://www.aju.edu/ziegler-school-rabbinic-studies/our-torah/back-issues/mighty-love)

I will close with another really interesting point made by Rabbi Berezovsky. He notes that the verse mentioned above, “I will build this world with kindness” (Psalms 89:3) is a reminder that human beings are created through an act of love between parents. When two partners care about each other's experience the moment of conception is elevated. While we may take that for granted, it did not have to be that way. God could have made it that conception of a new life happens in another way – less connected to love and care.

What emerges from this is that the world is created from acts of love and sustained through acts of love.

May we all be blessed with a shabbat of love and kindness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Barry Gelman

Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the ERJCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of Judaism. 

Category: ERJCC Blog

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