Kindness is often presented as a central virtue of the Jewish people. Abraham, the hero of our parshah, together with his wife Sarah, is a paradigm of kindness. One sees their hospitality to wayfarers at the beginning of the parshah, and later G‑d says that He loves Abraham because "he will instruct his household after him to keep the way of G‑d, doing charity and justice" (Genesis 18:19).

"Charity and justice" signify acts of kindness, and the Talmud cites this verse when it declares that there are three distinguishing features of the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham: They are 1) modest, 2) merciful, and they 3) do acts of kindness. "Anyone who has these qualities," the Talmud goes on to say, "is fit to join the Jewish people."1

There are different opinions among the Sages as to whether these qualities are natural to the Jewish people or are special "gifts" from G‑d.2 It is also clear that they are ideals that each person has to try to attain. However, taking all three qualities together one sees an intriguing spiritual structure.

Modesty, an inner sense of humility, comes from our experience at Mount Sinai. From then on, says the Talmud, there is a sense of awe in the soul of every Jew. The effect of this inner modesty and awe is to arouse the heart to mercy. The effect of this mercy is to encourage practical acts of kindness and charity.

From the soul, to the heart, to the hand. A flow-chart of goodness. Yet there is a further step, pointed out by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Sometimes an act of kindness can lead to a feeling of haughtiness and pride. "I have done you a favour—so I am on top!"

On the contrary, the traditional Jewish kindness inherited from Abraham is intended to lead back to mercy and love. It does this because it is triggered by modesty and self-effacement. The kindness is really the outer expression of inner self-effacement, and therefore it arouses yet further mercy and love in the heart of the one who is being kind. The flow chart creates a cyclic process. "One Mitzva draws another"; being kind, one feels yet more mercy and love, and becomes yet more kind. This is the Jewish inheritance from Abraham.3