In this week's Torah portion, Parshat Vayera, we learn about the profound importance of chessed (kindness) and how it is an essential aspect of life. The parsha begins with Avraham, the epitome of chessed, welcoming three men into his tent despite his old age and feeling sick. In reality, it is later revealed that they were angels who had been sent by Hashem to deliver the news that he and his wife would have a child despite their old age. Avraham’s act of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) exemplifies the value of acts of kindness and every detail provides timeless lessons for us.
One detail that might otherwise escape us is the emphasis on Avraham’s seeing. It says he “lifted his eyes” and “saw” three men approaching. Then tells us he “saw” again that they were embarrassed to take him up on his offer to host them.
What’s this focus on seeing about?
The Gemara mentions four categories of people who are considered on some level not fully alive: 1) those who are blind, 2) unable to have children, 3) afflicted with Tzara’at, and 4) those who are poor (Nedarim 64b).
But why are they considered as if they are not alive? This statement may appear harsh or insensitive. The Tosofot explain firstly that the reason the Sages say this is to help us feel proper compassion for those suffering with these tests. The Maharal explains further that what makes these tests so painful is that life is fundamentally about chessed, and these individuals are prevented or restricted from the ability to perform specific acts of chessed.
For example, someone with tzara’at is isolated from the community and can not connect with others, thus limiting their interactions and opportunities to help others.
Someone who cannot have children is deprived of the unique chessed of giving life to a child.
Those who are poor are preoccupied with their own struggles, making it challenging and almost impossible for them to give fully to others.
Finally, being blind also forces someone to be preoccupied with keeping themselves safe, and prevents a person from being see and tend to the needs of others. Seeing the opportunities for chessed is essential for living a life of chessed.
This underscores that the first step in performing acts of kindness is to actively look for opportunities to do so. If we’re too absorbed in ourselves we are blind to the people around us and their needs.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe would train his students in chessed by having them start by simply paying attention to people’s expressions and identifying those who may need help or are going through difficult times.
In summary, this week's Torah portion and the Gemara remind us of the significance of chessed in life. Even in challenging circumstances, finding ways to perform acts of kindness and being attentive to the needs of others is a fundamental aspect of our existence. By being spiritually aware and responsive to the needs of others, we can follow in the footsteps of Avraham and make the world a better place through our actions of kindness.
By: Simona Folk (10th)