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Kindness – Inside Out
Parashat Chaye Sarah
R’ Chaim Vital, student of Arizal was quoted saying something that I hope I will never forget. There are people who perform acts of kindness with everyone, but with their own families, they do not do kindness. They think to themselves that when they come to the next world, to the Heavenly Court, the gates of Paradise will be opened wide… Woe is to them! Woe is to their souls!!! For they do not know that all their kindness is worthless!!! (see Sefer Chaim Sheyesh Bahem pg. 100) What? Why?!
The Halacha regarding charity is that family comes first. To be a community leader, you need, first, to be a family leader. Your family before another, your city before another. And your wife comes first, before anyone else, even your parents! וּמִבְּשָׂרְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִתְעַלָּֽם: (Yeshayahu 58)
But some “leaders” don’t get it… some people who are kind and available outside the house, are “unavailable” inside the house. The only way a family member can get through to such people is “long distance”. An email, WhatsApp or text.
How cruel! Why would you want your children to develop a hatred for acts of kindness performed for other people? If you are kind to everyone, except for your wife and children, what generally happens? Your wife and children subconsciously begin to feel that they are not worth your time, love, interest, affection. This kindness is not kindness. This kindness is cruelty! The proof is that your children will not follow in your way; they will not do kindness outside their own homes, because they do not want to hurt anyone, like they were hurt!
Avraham was the epitome of Balanced Kindness, by being sensitive for his own family first. When Avraham offered meat to his three guests, he went through the trouble of slaughtering three cows, to give a whole tongue in mustard sauce to each, with three Se’ah of fine flour. But when he offered them water to wash, he offered only a small amount. יֻקַּֽח־נָ֣א מְעַט־מַ֔יִם Why didn’t he trouble himself to serve them a lot of water? The Talmud teaches, that the flour and the cattle, Avraham dealt with himself. But the act of bringing the water was delegated to a household member. (B. Metzia 86) That is why he only asked for the smallest amount of water. (R’ Yisrael Salanter)
It is so interesting. The Torah uses the word Chessed in two regards. Kindness and embarrassment/abomination. (Vayikra 20;17) What is the significance of this? Why would the Torah use this word for two diametrically opposed meanings?
Let us take a look at the Chessed of Lot. When he invited the angel guests and was surrounded by the mob of the entire city of Sodom, he was given an ultimatum. “Give us your guests, so that we can defile their bodies!” Lot stepped out and quickly closed the door behind him, as he faced the angry mob. And then, Lot offered them the most despicable offer, in the name of kindness! הִנֵּה־נָ֨א לִ֜י שְׁתֵּ֣י בָנ֗וֹת אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־יָדְעוּ֙ אִ֔ישׁ אוֹצִֽיאָה־נָּ֤א אֶתְהֶן֙ אֲלֵיכֶ֔ם וַעֲשׂ֣וּ לָהֶ֔ן כַּטּ֖וֹב בְּעֵינֵיכֶ֑ם רַ֠ק לָֽאֲנָשִׁ֤ים הָאֵל֙ אַל־תַּעֲשׂ֣וּ דָבָ֔ר כִּֽי־עַל־ כֵּ֥ן בָּ֖אוּ בְּצֵ֥ל קֹרָתִֽי: Here, I have two daughters who have never known any man. I will bring my daughters out to you, to do with them as you wish! But do nothing to my guests, for they have come under the shelter of my roof!!!(Bereshit 19;8)
Lot got the first part of Avraham’s class on kindness, but he missed the second part. All he knew, all he learned from Avraham was kindness, before Avraham had a family. Lot never got a chance to learn from Avraham how to balance kindness with family, because he went out on his own path before Avraham had any children! He thought that by being kind, by sacrificing his family to protect his guests he would be “Avrahamic”, a drop like his uncle. But he paid a heavy price for it. His own daughters, the ones who had not yet married, got back at their own father in the cave, with the most awkward and embarrassing story of bearing children ever! She even named her child Moab- From father, forever announcing to the world – this child is from my Dad! Because I learned from dad that being kind to others, saving the world, comes first, before saving face for family!
Our Parasha begins with a very detailed episode of Avraham purchasing a grave for his deceased wife Sarah. The Midrash Rabbah comments on this achievement of Avraham with the passuk in Mishleiרֹ֭דֵף צְדָקָ֣ה וָחָ֑סֶד יִמְצָ֥א חַ֝יִּ֗ים צְדָקָ֥ה וְכָבֽוֹד He who pursues charity and kindness will find life, charity, and honor. (Mishlei 21, 21) Who is the one who pursued charity and kindness? This is Avraham, who performed kindness to his wife Sarah!
What? Avraham is known as the King of Kindness, only because he was kind to his wife Sarah? Why is buying her a grave considered kindness? Isn’t every Joe Shmoe expected to buy his wife a grave, as promised in the Ketuba?
Yes. Every husband has to buy a grave for his wife, but this was not any ordinary grave. This was the Maarat Hamachpela, something that Avraham paid $8,160,000 dollars for, despite being promised by G-d that the Canaanite land was his. (see Kav Vnaki) Avraham knew that deep inside that cave is the entrance to Gan Eden. (Midrash Rut) Avraham knew that this is a place where all prayers and praise pass through, before going On High. (Rama Mipano, Yonat Ilem,; Migaleh Amukot)
But there is a deeper message here. Avraham got into the Kindness Hall of Fame not for being kind to the world, but for being kind to his wife. All the greatest kindness that Avraham did does not add up to the one act of kindness to his own wife, Sarah: getting her the best grave in the world! Your ticket to Olam Haba is not the kindness of changing the world and making it a better place. It is the kindness of changing your world
Why are people not kind inside-out? There are two main reasons for this.
Aleph- Doing kindness outside home is more attractive than doing kindness inside your home. You don’t get any medals for saying something kind to your wife, or spending time with your kids. Acts of kindness at home won’t make you famous or make you any “connections”.
Beth– You are expected to be nice at home, to your wife and children. And the rule in life is – people do not usually do what they are expected to do. As our Rabbis teach גדול המצווה ועושה יותר ממי שאינו מצווה ועושה. Greater is one who does what he is commanded from someone who is not commanded and he does. )Kiddushin 31a)
But real kindness is inside-out. First inside, and then outside. We all have a commandment that is almost impossible to fulfill. ואהבת לרעך כמוך , Love your friend like yourself. How is it possible to love someone else like I love myself? R’ Chaim Vital writes that the situation in which you can actually love another person as yourself, can be fulfilled through loving your wife. (Shaar Likutim Ekeb) The Talmud learns from this passuk that it is forbidden for a man to marry a woman, without seeing her first. Why? Because it could be that after he marries her, he will not like the way she looks (one of the worst feelings for a woman), and the Torah says ואהבת לרעך כמוך! Love your friend like your love yourself! (Kiddushin 41a) After all, the real, original Chessed, was from Adam to Chava, kindness from a man to his wife, before anyone else was born!
Hillel taught אל תָּדִין (תָּדוּן) אֶת חֲבֵרְךָ עַד שֶׁתַּגִּיעַ לִמְקוֹמו Do not judge a person until you reach his place. (Chapter 2) R Moshe Aharon Shtern would add a twist to that. If you want to judge a person, check with his wife and children, his home, his place. How do they, his place, perceive their Abba? Because who you are at home, is all you really are in the World of Truth.
The Rambam rules that a Middah, a characteristic, that is not balanced is a bad characteristic, even if the characteristic is kindness. (Deot 1;5) So how does a person balance kindness? Here are the selfie steps… The self- help steps that put things into balance.
- Master the art of kindness by learning Sefer Ahavat Chessed of the Chafetz Chaim. Chessed is a skill- not an impulse. Ask your Rabbi when in doubt.
- First make sure that your own home is functional before helping others. Here are some ingredients to a functioning home, a home where family needs are met: Selfless love. Joy. Peace and calm. Patience. Kindness. Compassion. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Acceptance. Boundaries. Responsibility. Individualism. Health. Social life. Reasonable expectations.
- Learn to accept yourself, and love yourself. You do not need “medals”, you just need to recognize how much good G-d has given you. You do not need connections. You just need to realize that your best and most important connections are your own family. They are G-d’s gift to you. Cherish them.