If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him – proselyte or resident – so that he can live with you. Do not take from him interest and increase; you shall fear your G-d and let your brother live with you. (Lev. 25:35,36)
King Solomon said (Prov. 21:13), “He who stops his ears at the cry of the poor shall also cry himselfbut shall not be answered.” Anyone who deserts a person who needs him, will in turn be deserted by G-d. This is what happened to Elimelech: Elimelech was one of the leaders of the nation and sustainers of the generation. Yet when the years of famine arrived, he said: All Israel are gathering around my door, each one with his basket [asking for donations]. He got up and ran away from the Land (Ruth Rabbah 1:4). And he was punished for this by dying – he and both of his sons – in exile. Anyone who forsakes the divine commandment of lovingkindness – G-d will forsake him, measure for measure: Thus says Hashem: You have abandoned Me, and I, too, have abandoned you (2 Chronicles 12:5).
Kindness and kind deeds are a general category that includes many individual mitzvot like charity, marrying off a poor girl, visiting the sick and comforting mourners. Truthfully, the potential for kind deeds is immeasurable. Anything one does for his fellow man, even offering a single kind word, is part of the kindness that builds the world. In other words, every good deed one does for his fellow man is called good because of the kindness it contains, because kindness is the fundamental kernel within all good. Loving one's fellow Jew is a mitzvah of global importance. Love, respect and reverence for our fellow Jew, created in G-d's image and sanctified at Sinai as G-d's elect, is the duty of every single Jew, because he is part of that chosen people. Every Jew must grow spiritually by showing love and respect for his fellow Jew. In that way, he expresses his esteem for someone holy and select, created in G-d's image and chosen at Sinai to be G-d's special treasure. In effect, he gains self-esteem as well. These benefits are secondary to the main benefit accrued: Though such behavior one suppresses the evil impulse and breaks down his ego. This is man's purpose, and doing so exalts and sanctifies him. It says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The moment a person equates someone else – through the love and respect he shows him – with himself, thereby ceasing to view himself as the center of the world, his own ego will begin to grow smaller.
Kindness for one's fellow man, even for someone who is not one's relative and whom one doesnot know at all, is the trait that separates man from beast. It is this which elevates man to a level just beneath the angels, and perhaps just above them. Man's ability to give and to sacrifice his property and time for his fellow man is what G-d wished to implement on earth when He created it, and for this he created man.
R. Elazar said (Succah 49b), “Charity is only rewarded according to the kindness it contains, as it says (Hosea 10:12), 'Sow charity for yourselves, reap according to kindness.'” Rashi comments, “The giving is charity. The trouble taken is kindness, for example, bringing the money to the poor person's house, or taking the trouble that it should help him a lot... in short, paying full heed to the poor man's welfare.” How true are Rashi's words! Once more we have clear proof that the purpose of charity and kindness is its influence on the soul of the one offering it.
Make no mistake. Kindness, per se, is not the main purpose of creation or of Torah. Rather, it is the most outstanding, pronounced expression of modesty, self-abnegation, subjugation of the evil impulse and acceptance of G-d's yoke discernible in man. Man, by giving, nullifies his sense of taking. By worrying about his fellow man, he suppresses his selfishness, arrogance and lust. There is nothing great or praiseworthy about the poor person receiving kindness or charity. In taking and benefiting, one performs no mitzvah. The mitzvah is entirely in that the giver gives, that the kind person's mercy wells up and he forgets himself, his property and his selfishness, suppressing his ego and giving of his money or time to someone else. In doing so, he reinforces the humility within. By suppressing his evil impulse and lessening his lust, arrogance and selfishness, he fulfills his task on this earth. For this he was created. It is patently obvious that the main purpose of kind deeds is not that the receiver receive but that the giver give. Regarding tzedaka (“charity”), Chazal said a great thing which holds true regarding all mitzvot between man and his fellow man: The poor man does more for the donor than the donor does for the poor man. For as Ruth said to Naomi, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz” (Ruth 2:19). It does not say “who worked with me,” but “with whom I worked”. She said to her: Many good deeds have I done with him today for the slice that he gave me (Leviticus Rabbah 34:8). True, the simple meaning is that the master receives greater income from G-d than what he gives in charity. But Chazal take this far deeper: the greatness of the mitzvah of tzedaka is not that the poor man receives, but that the giver gives. There is no greatness in a person receiving something material – but great is the person who gives to someone else, thereby relinquishing the benefit that he could have received from his money. Performing this mitzvah affects his soul. He elevates and sanctifies it by removing the selfishness that encrusts it. Therefore Ruth said, Many good deeds have I done with him today. The same applies to any form of kindness that a person performs for his fellow-man: the greatness lies, not in the receiving, but in the active performance of giving. This is the great difference between Torah and socialism: Torah emphasizes the giving, whereas socialism emphasizes the receiving – and receiving only increases the selfishness of the recipient, who will never be satisfied with what he has received. The Jews who distort the Torah are so influenced by the alien culture that they turn kindness and mercy into goals in and of themselves. By such means they elevate them above all the mitzvot, necessarily diminishing the value of all other mitzvot. They also push the concepts of kindness and mercy to foolish and dangerous extremes, while they themselves include wicked enemies of the Jewish People. The real meaning of kindness and truth is that these principles are only part, albeit an exceedingly marked and conspicuous part, of the Torah's main purpose and goal – self-abnegation and suppression of our evil impulse and arrogance. All the mitzvot were given for this purpose, but kindness and mercy are the most direct part to this goal, as I have explained. Such acts express the Torah's essence, breaking down one's ego. The word mercy – “rachamim” in Hebrew – comes from “rechem”, womb. There is no mercy like that of a mother for the child of her womb. There is an inseparable bond between them because the child is part of her body, “flesh of her flesh” (Gen. 2:23). Just so must be a Jew's mercy for his fellow Jew (if that fellow is worthy). It should resemble a mother's mercy for her child.
Compiled by Tzipora Liron-Pinner, from “The Jewish Idea" and "Peirush Hamaccabee - Shemot" of Rav Meir Kahane, HY”D