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True Kindness - the Crux of Torah

True Kindness - the Crux of Torah

© Ahuva Klein
© Ahuva Klein

Why is the red heifer called chukat haTorah, "the decree of the Torah"? It's as if the Torah is saying, "This is the crux of the whole Torah."

We know that the essence of the whole Torah is love of one's fellow: There is the famous story of the sage Hillel and a person who wanted to convert, provided that Hillel would teach him the Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel answered: "What is hateful unto you, do not do to another. This is the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary." What did he mean by this statement? He meant that love of one's fellow is the key to the entire Torah. That's what G‑d wants, first and foremost. And if a person has love for a fellow Jew, that will lead to Torah and love of G‑d.

The other way around doesn't work. If one only has love for G‑d but doesn't love his fellow, that is a terrible, terrible flaw.

What is the paradox of the red heifer? It is that the Jews went ahead and gave away hours of their time in order to prepare it for somebody else. They didn't do it for themselves, they did it for the other Jews who had become spiritually impure. Furthermore, those priests who prepared the red heifer not only gave up their time to prepare it — it's a lengthy process — but they also became impure as a result.

One may ask, "Now, why should I go ahead and give up my time to help a person whom I don't even know? I don't know who the beneficiaries of this red heifer are going to be. Who knows? Maybe it won't happen for ten years!" Do you think the red heifer mixture was used every single day? It was kept in a certain part of the Holy Temple and whenever it was necessary it was used. It's not as if it was for your next door neighbor, for your mother, your brother; maybe for them a priest would have expended his time and purity making it. But for a total stranger?! Why should a Jew do that? Should a normal person go and harm himself to help another Jew?

"This is the decree of the Torah." A person should not only want to help another Jew when he gets a prize, when he becomes Chairman of the Dinner or Man of the Year. Everyone will know that this person did a great deed; it'll be in the newspaper, and he'll get a lot of honor for it. That's not necessarily love for one's fellow. It's more like serving yourself. Who knows if you are really doing the good deed for others, or because you want everyone else to know how nice you are? What is your real intention?

But if you do something for another and not only don't you get rewarded for it, but you also become impure for it, that is real self sacrifice. When you sacrifice yourself for another, not only don't you get a prize, but you also, in a sense, suffer for it. That is "the decree of the Torah."

If you ever go to a Jewish funeral —we should never have to go to one — you may notice that on the car carrying the deceased, there are four Hebrew letters: gimmel, chet, shin, alef. These stand for the words gemilut chessed shel emet — acts of true kindness. Why is this called "true kindness?" Because when you do a kindly act, someone will say, "Oh, you're so nice. I love you. You're such a nice person." Well, you like to hear that, so you go help others so that everyone will tell you how nice you are — you go on an ego trip. But if you go and bury a dead person, he'll never say "Thank you" to you. That's it — you're just doing it for him. It is true kindness.

By Nechoma Greisman, based on the teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Nechoma Greisman was an educator, counselor and speaker who reached thousands of women through her classes and books. Tragically, at the age of 39, hours after giving birth to her tenth child, Nechoma was taken from this world, leaving an enormous and irreplaceable loss to Jews worldwide.
Artwork by Ahuva Klein.
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Anonymous June 16, 2010

Gemilus Chessed Shel Emes Nechama Greisman, this is true gemilus chessed shel emes ("kindness of truth"). You wrote and we can't thank you, because you are no longer with us down on earth. Reply

Jonathan Johannesburg, South Africa July 4, 2008

HILLEL/NORMAN I agree with you entirely Norman.
However, what has been said by myself above in no way presumes that "further study" is not needed - indeed, essential. Nor does it presume that Hillel's words above are a "30 second prescription replacing the ongoing need to learn the details from our sacred texts." However, I do believe that what was said above, not only by myself but by others as well, is valid. If it is not I would appreciate being corrected. Reply

Norman Sider Indianapolis, Indiana, USA via July 3, 2008

Hillel's words We must remember that following the oft-quoted words discussed previously Hillel added, "Now go study." What he said before this is merely the beginning of Jewish living, not a 30-second prescription replacing the ongoing need to learn the details from our sacred texts. Reply

A. Auerbach July 2, 2008

The Ashes were used frequently Death is a fact of life, and whenever a person helps with the burial, he becomes tamei mes, and needs to go through the purification ritual which includes the ashes of the red heifer. Reply

Jonathan Levy Johannesburg, South Africa November 27, 2007

HILLEL/NES Wise words by Hillel.
Sad that we all cannot carry them out.
Ego = a huge problem. Reply

NES November 27, 2007

Hillel Actually, Jonathan, you are correct.

Hillel's words: "That which is hateful unto you, do not do unto your fellow." Reply

Jonathan Levy Johannesburg, South Africa November 27, 2007

LOVE YOUR FELLOW I agree entirely with what NES said, but must point out that when Hillel said "Love your fellow" I doubt very much whether he was saying "love" in the usual sense of the word - indeed, he must have been referring to "caring."
So, what I have said above implies this. Obviously, "love" is reserved for our "loved ones" - to "love" all and sundry would, as NES says, "not be practical." However, to "care" for them is a mitzvah - and if all mankind "cared" for each other the world would be an amazing place.
If all Arabs cared for all Jews and vice-versa the Middle East "problem" would not exist. Reply

NES November 27, 2007

Re: Love Your Fellow There’s a BIG difference between “love” and “caring.” While to espouse the importance of “loving” all of G-d’s creatures makes for great platitudes, it is not practical, and actually demeans the value of love.
We care for all mankind in particular, and all of G-d’s creations in general. But “love” is reserved for family and dear friends. To make no distinctions and “love” everyone equally is impractical and only serves to undermine those institutions that thrive on true love – such as family and close friendships. Reply

Jonathan Levy Johannesburg, South Africa November 27, 2007

LOVE YOUR FELLOW While Chana may be correct in what she says (re. "ray-acha") surely what has been said before by myself and Fiona, and also Fiona's last posting, are logical? Further, when referring to the broader context of mankind as a whole, while one's fellow Jew may receive a certain preference, one must not confine ones love to fellow Jews only. G-d made people of many religions - all of whom are fellow human beings - and therefore deserving of our "love" - consideration - call it what you may.
And does this not also apply to animals? Yes it does. Somewhere it says that after a hard days' work we are to feed our animals before we feed ourselves in case, after eating, we are too tired and content to go out and feed our animals.
In short, it should apply to all living creatures, all of whom were created by G-d. Reply

fiona Wellington, New Zealand November 26, 2007

Hillel The beauty and wit in Hillel's answer to the question "tell me the Torah while standing on one leg" is in it's brevity. "do not do to your fellow what you yourself find hateful. All the rest is commentary.". He was speaking to a man who wasn't himself a Jew so therefore he was prescribing a code of behaviour that should be universal. Hillel did not qualify his remark. He just said ." All the rest is commentary." He also did not mention the word love, He was talking about human decency. Reply

Chana Weisberg, November 26, 2007

Re: Love your fellow Jew It is definitely proper behavior and a mitzvah to care for and be kind and loving to everyone. But there would be an extra emphasis on love for a fellow Jew. It would be like being kind to your next door neighbor, or being kind to your brother--both are important, but one's own brother takes somewhat precedence if both are in the same situation, needing the same level of help or support.

Technically speaking, whenever the Torah uses the word "fellow" (ray-acha), it is a reference to a fellow Jew. Reply

Jonathan Levy Johannesburg, South Africa March 9, 2007

Love your fellow I want to thank Fiona for her comment and agreement on what I said.

I also want to express my surprise that since posting my comment on July 6, 2006, only one other comment on what I said has been received.

Is this due to a lack of concern - or, perhaps to disagreement with what I said? If it is the latter it would have been very interesting to have heard various points of view. Reply

fiona wellington, new zealand March 8, 2007

the commandment to love one's fellow Yes It is a good article and I also noticed how "love for one's fellow" becomes "love for one's fellow jew"

I think this mitzvah applies to everyone.

Any comments? Reply

Jonathan Levy Johannesburg, South Africa July 6, 2006

This week's parshah Hillel said "Love your fellow." Did he say "Love your fellow Jew only?" No. Does the Torah say "Love your fellow Jew only" i.e. only Jews and nobody else? No.
I agree that "Charity begins at home" so to speak, and that we Jews are despised by many and therefore have to help each other.
However, I do not feel that we should confine our love to our fellow Jews only - we are all part of the world and therefore have to interact with many kinds of people. In this light, we should "Love all fellow men" regardless of their colour, race or creed. Would the world not be a far better place if this was the case? Obviously it would be.
Maybe I am being naive - many "fellow men" do not love us Jews - but if we adopt that attitude are we not reinforcing anti-semitism?
Surely, if all men loved each other, we would have a far better world etc.
Your comments would be appreciated.
Thank you, Reply

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