The tzaddik answered in typical Rav Isser Zalman fashion, “And who says that another piece in Even Ha’azel is of greater significance to Hashem than the ten copies I made for this Yid?”
Let us absorb this for a moment. In the yeshiva world, it is well-known how revered the sefer Even Ha’azel is. How sweet is Rav Isser Zalman’s Torah, with wonderful explanations, challenging queries, and riveting chiddushim on the Rambam. It arouses pilpul amongst the lomdim and endears Hashem’s Torah to them. Yet, despite all of this, Rav Isser Zalman thought it is possible that doing this chessed for just one individual might be of greater import.
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After the devastating sin of the Eigel, when Moshe Rabbeinu pleaded to Hashem on behalf of his brethren to save them from destruction, the Ribono Shel Olam told him to carve out two Luchos like the first ones. Moshe ascended Har Sinai with the Luchos in hand. There, Hashem wrapped Himself in a tallis like a shliach tzibbur and showed Moshe the order of tefillah, the Thirteen Attributes of Hashem — “Hashem, Hashem, Keil Rachum V’chanun…” He said to him, “Wherever Yisroel sins, let them perform before me this order and I shall forgive them” (Rosh Hashanah 17b).
Rabi Yehudah said, “There is a sealed covenant regarding the Thirteen Attributes that they are not sent away unanswered, as it says, ‘Behold I am sealing a covenant’” (Shemos 34:10).
“If so,” asks Rav Aharon Hakohein, son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim, “why aren’t we answered when we say these words constantly during the days of Selichos and on Yom Kippur? Secondly, why did Hashem say, ‘Let them perform these before Me this order,’ when this is just a tefillah? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say, ‘Let them read before Me this order’?”
The first question can be answered by the second, and this can be explained with a moshol from the Chofetz Chaim.
A wealthy industrialist, a proprietor of numerous factories, was approached by his recently wed nephew. The nephew needed a job to support his household and he asked his uncle to hire him. The rich man said enthusiastically, “I can use a responsible person who will supervise the work of my employees at their various posts. It is not a difficult job, but it carries great responsibility. All you need to do is keep a close watch over my workers.”
The manufacturer took out a piece of paper and wrote a detailed list of the various areas in the factory that the nephew would have to oversee – an hour here and an hour there, an hour for a lunch break, and then the rest of the day’s schedule.
“Read this carefully,” he instructed his new employee. “At the end of every month, you are to come and report to me about the workers’ productivity and you will receive a salary of fifty gulden.”
“Fifty gulden?” exclaimed the nephew. “What a generous salary! Thank you so much. You can be sure that I won’t disappoint you,” he assured his uncle confidently.
At the end of the first month, he approached his uncle, anxiously awaiting his salary. The money was there waiting for him, but he would first have to report to the boss.
“So tell me,” said the employer, “what have you accomplished this last month?”
“Surely,” said the nephew. He began reciting by heart from the beginning to the end the entire list that his uncle had written for him.
“Wonderful,” said his uncle. “Now please tell me about the progress at each individual post. How hard are the employees working?”
Now the nephew was confused. “This I don’t know,” he said.
“Well, didn’t you make the daily inspections like I told you?”
“Inspections? What inspections? I thought you just wanted me to memorize the list and recite it every day.”
“What?!” cried the boss. “What were you thinking? Did you really believe that you would earn such a generous salary for merely reciting a list of responsibilities? How is it that didn’t realize that you were meant to follow these instructions, that it was your personal daily itinerary?”
The lesson is clear. The Thirteen Attributes of Hakadosh Boruch Hu, while given to us to be recited as a tefillah, is primarily a directive for all of us, a set of guidelines for walking in the ways of Hashem. “Just as He is compassionate, so too you should be compassionate and gracious” (Sotah 14b). Only if we follow these ways of Hashem consistently, being caring and giving and patient with others, then there is a sealed covenant that Hashem will not send us away empty-handed. This is why Hashem said, “Let them perform before me this order.”
In this register of Hashem’s attributes, none of them are at all quantified, save for one. About middas hachessed it says, “Verav chessed – And abundant in kindness.” There are numerous explanations for this description of bounty. Perhaps a simple understanding of this based on Rabbeinu Yaakov ben Yokor, Rashi’s rebbi, is that chessed is a basic ingredient in all of the thirteen qualities of Hashem, and the greatest middah of all is “verav chessed.”
The entire briah depends on chessed. “The world was created only with chessed,as it says (Tehillim 89:3), ‘Olam chessed yiboneh’” (Avos D’Rebbi Nosson 4:5). Rabi Simlai said: “A proof that all of His ways are chessed, for in the beginning of the Torah Hashem adorned the kallah, as it says, ‘Hashem Elokim fashioned his side’ (Bereishis 2:22)…this refers to the kallah, Chavah. At the conclusion of the Torah it says, ‘And he buried him (Moshe Rabbeinu) in the valley…’ (Devorim 34:6). And in the middle He visited the sick. When Avrohom Avinu circumcised himself,Hashem and his entourage came to visit.”
Where there is an abundance of any commodity, it is easier to acquire and its price is lower. It is the same with Hashem’s kindness. It does not take much to be a recipient of His favors. Even with small merit and a bit of tefillah, one can benefit from His graciousness. In fact, Hashem gives sustenance even to those who don’t deserve it at all. Of course we must earn our keep or else our Olam Habah will be deficient, but Hashem does chessed with people of all levels.
Chessed is the protoplasm of life. The mispar koton of chessed is eighteen, the same as the word chai, the living. Everything living depends on the chessed of Hashem. Conversely, when is a person really alive? When he can perform chassodim. One who isolates himself from others and does nothing to help his fellow man is not truly living.
The Chofetz Chaim, in Sheim Olam, points out that a look at pesukim in Tanach clearly shows that of all the middos bein odom lachaveiro, the main desire of Hashem is for chessed. The posuk says, “For he desires kindness” (Michah 7:18). “For I desire kindness, not sacrifice” (Hoshea 6:6). “For only with these may one glorify himself – contemplating and knowing Me, for I am Hashem, Who does kindness, justice and righteousness in the land, for in these is My desire – the word of Hashem (Yirmiyahu 9:23).
It is interesting to note how much the Alter of Slabodka, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, valued the middah of chessed in determining a person’s spiritual level. When his son, Rav Moshe, became very ill, the Alter sent a messenger to three men in Yerushalayim, asking them to daven for his son’s welfare. One of them was the great mekubal, Rav Shlomo Elyashiv, the Baal Haleshem. The second was another tzaddik, one of the elders of the Holy City. The third was a seemingly plain person, who was not erudite in Torah, but one who was knowledgeable in medicine and helped many people. Because he was outstanding in chessed, the Alter held his tefillos in high esteem.
Once, a talmid who joined the Slabodka Yeshiva did not learn much, did not conform to the ways of the yeshiva, and even behaved in an unbecoming way. He did, however, display one good quality: He enjoyed doing favors for other bnei hayeshiva. There were those on the hanhalah who suggested to the Alter that the bochur should leave the yeshiva, but Rav Nosson Tzvi adamantly disagreed with them, saying, “It is worthwhile for the yeshiva to have a bochur like this who excels in chessed.”
It is a mistake to think, “I’m not a big macher, I don’t run a gemach that dispenses loans, and I’m not good at collecting money, so chessed is not my thing.” First of all, there are many different ways of performing chessed – lending money or utensils, being mesameiach chosson vekallah, visiting the sick, levoyas hameis, nichum aveilim, etc. In addition, when you live amongst other people, it is easy to find opportunities for chessed. Babysitting for a neighbor’s child when needed, cooking a meal for someone who just had a baby, or even davening for someone who has a particular need are just a few examples that immediately come to mind.
Hashem has blessed us with seichel hayoshor, and indeed there are so many who have come up with innovative ideas in chessed. There are tefillin and mezuzah gemachs for those who have sent theirs to be checked by a sofer. There are baby carriage gemachs, gemachs of chairs and tables for simchos, tablecloth and flower lending, folding bed gemachs, chavrusah arrangements, and many others. All it means is taking chessed seriously and giving it some thought (Sefer Olam Chessed Yiboneh).
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One Erev Yom Kippur, an elderly man, who looked pious and scholarly, was busy at work. Unbeknownst to him, he was being closely observed by a teenager who was obviously irreligious. The teen approached the man who was occupied with cutting toilet paper for a public bathroom and asked him why a man of his stature was doing such a seemingly lowly job.
The man answered, “It is Erev Yom Kippur today. Most people are hustling and bustling, preparing for this awesome day. I am already old. I don’t have to take care of my children and I have time on my hands. Tomorrow, people are not allowed to rip the paper, so I figured what better way to do a chessed than to do this job for them beforehand?”
The boy continued watching intently as the scholar proceeded with his task. Because of this, the boy became a complete baal teshuvah. He said that with every rip of the paper, he felt that the wall around his soul was being torn into. He was so impressed that he took the steps to learn about Torah and mitzvos and he became a frum Yid. The man who performed this chessed was none other than Rav Elya Dushnitzer, the rebbi of Rav Shalom Schwadron, about whom the Chazon Ish testified that he was one of the thirty-six hidden tzaddikim. This lowly task was not beneath his dignity and it brought another Jew under the wings of the Shechinah.
During these difficult times of Ikvesah DeMeshichah, the needs of our people are many and so are the opportunities to help them. All of us could use the zechuyos that chessed brings us. As Chazal say, “What should a person do to be saved from the birth pangs of Moshiach? Let him be occupied with Torah and with gemillus chassodim” (Sanhedrin 98b).