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Vayeira/Chayei Sarah

Natural or Mechanical Kindness

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

It is interesting to note that there is nothing specific commanding us to perform acts of loving kindness. The Torah does not state: “Thou shall do acts of loving kindness.” The Torah does not explicitly command us on many of the specific acts of loving kindness that we all take for granted, such as visiting the sick or comforting mourners. So how do we know that we are, in fact, commanded to do so?

The sages of the Talmud explain that we learn that we are commanded to perform acts of loving kindness from the verse: “Thou shall walk in God’s ways.” (Deuteronomy 28,9) Just as God is kind, we are commanded to be kind. Just as God is gracious, we are commanded to be gracious. Just as God visits the sick, we are commanded to visit the sick. Just as God visits Abraham when he is sick after his circumcision, we are commanded to emulate God’s ways and do the same. Our obligation to perform acts of loving kindness stems from the obligation to emulate God’s ways. But why does the Torah command us to perform loving kindness in such a vague way? Why not simply command loving kindness and specific acts of loving kindness, such as visiting the sick?

This can be explained by a verse in the prophet Micha (6,8) ‘He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; but to do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your God.’ The Chofetz Chaim points out that the prophet understood that God not only wants us to perform acts of loving kindness because we are commanded to do so, but also to love performing acts of loving kindness. We are commanded to become people who perform acts of loving kindness because that has become our nature and not people performing mechanical actions of kindness that we are commanded to perform.

Therefore, the Torah does not command us to perform loving kindness directly, but commands us, rather, to emulate God’s acts of loving kindness. God performs acts of loving kindness without any command or coercion simply because His essence is kindness. God is, similarly, commanding us to transform our essence in such a way that kindness flows from us naturally. To become such people is our challenge and divine calling.

Sun, July 12 2020 20 Tammuz 5780