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Torah & Gemilut Chassadim

Torah & Gemilut Chassadim

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The Biblical and Rabbinical writings abound with references to the significance, need, and redeeming qualities of this mitzvah. For Gemilut Chassadim is the very foundation-stone and pillar of the universe1. Without social justice and morality, the righteousness and compassion signified by the concept of Gemilut Chassadim, there can be no society; humanity cannot exist2.

Our Sages note that the beginning, middle, and end of the Torah deal with Gemilut Chassadim3. Thus whoever says that he cares for nothing but Torah, to the exclusion of Gemilut Chassadim, he has not even Torah, as it is written: "Learn them and be careful to perform them" (Deuteronomy 5:1)4. For the study of Torah is meaningful only when it leads to an actual observance of the mitzvot5. By the same token, "an am ha'aretz, a person who knows not the Torah, cannot be a chassid (a pious person)," i.e., one who performs chessed6. When ignorant of the teachings of the Torah one cannot possibly act in the manner that the Torah requires7. It is the Torah that determines which deeds are regarded as acts of Gemilut Chassadim, and lends them their sacred character of being a mitzvah.

Torah and Gemilut Chassadim are inseparable one from another. That is why we find them usually coupled in the teachings of the Sages8. Thus it was taught: "If Israel would consider the words of the Torah that was given to them, no nation or kingdom would have dominion over them. And what does (the Torah) say to them? Take upon you the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven to excel one another in the fear of Heaven, and to conduct yourselves, one to another, with acts of loving-kindness9."

FOOTNOTES
1. Midrash Tehilim 89:2; Avot 1:2.
2. See Bereishit Rabba 3 8:7; Baba Metzi'a 30b. Cf above, note 3.
3. Tanchuma - B., Vayera:4; cf Sotah l4a.
4. Yevamoth 109b.
5. See Avot 1:17; Kidushin 40b; Vayikra Rabba 35:6; R. Judah Loewe, Netivot Olam, Gemilut Chassadim, ch. 2.
6. See Zohar III:222b and 281 a. Chessed, here, is taken in the full, comprehensive sense which applies to Divine Service as much as to social service; see note following.
7. Avot 2:5 (and the parallel passages cited there in Mitzpeh Yehoshua). Note there the commentary of R. Yonah, that the am ha'aretz may well be a tzadik, i.e., one who conducts himself according to the basic norms (minimal legal requirements) of the Torah; but he cannot be a Chasid, i.e. one who goes beyond the strict measure of the law.
8. See Netivot Olam, ibid.
9. Sifre, Ha'azinu, par. 323, and Yalkut Shimoni 1:946, on Deuteronomy 32:29.
Published by Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn, NY, 1967
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