Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen – Parsha Eikev – The Two Aspects Of Chessed

Devarim, 10:12: “And now, Yisrael, what does HaShem, your G-d ask of you, except to fear HaShem, your G-d, to go in all His ways…”

Sifri, Devarim, 11:22: “’To go in the ways of HaShem’ – these are the ways of Hakadosh Baruch Hu…

In the midst of his speech to the Jewish people, Moshe Rabbeinu exhorts them to go in the ways of HaShem.  The Sifri explains that a person should emulate the character traits of HaShem – for example, in the same way that He is kind, a person should be kind.  Thus, when a person does an act of kindness, it would appear that he fulfils this Mitzva of emulating HaShem. 

There is another Mitzva that a person fulfils when doing kindness – that of V’ahavta lereyecha kemocha’.[1]  Accordingly, the question arises as to why there are two Mitzvos for the same action.  My Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits shlit’a suggests that there is a fundamental difference in the two Mitzvos in that the motivation for each Mitzva is very different.  Rav Berkovits suggests that the primary aspect of V’ahavta lereyech kemocha is to develop a love for one’s fellow man, and this motivates a person to help him in the same way that he would help himself.[2]  Thus, if one’s focus is on the desire that his friend succeed, and his concern for his well-being, then he fulfils ‘V’ahavta lereyecha kemocha’.

In contrast, the underlying focus of the Mitzva of ‘V’halachta b’drachav’ is to improve one’s character traits so that they emulate those of HaShem.  Therefore, just like HaShem is kind, a person should strive to be kind.  Accordingly, if his primary focus is on improving his middos in order to emulate HaShem, then he fulfils ‘V’halachta b’drachav’.[3]

Needless to say, it is possible and ideal to simultaneously have both intentions and thereby fulfill two Mitzvos at the same time.[4]  One person who exemplified both aspects of doing kindness was Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l. There are numerous examples of his outstanding chessed that seemed to emanate both from his midda of chessed and his great love of his fellow man.  The following example shows how on occasion, doing chessed might require considerable effort and time, and yet, just like HaShem’s chessed is limitless, a person should strive for his chessed to be as limitless as possible.[5]

A couple from Ofakim where Rav Pincus was the Rav, gave birth to a premature baby in Yerushalayim.  The baby would have to remain there for at least three weeks.  The doctors urged the mother to remain nearby so she could feed the baby herself, because that would aid the baby’s development and enable him to come home earlier.  Unfortunately, this was not possible, so instead the hospital said they would feed the baby with special formula milk, which was not as effective as mother’s milk.

The father relates what happened next:

“…I went to Rav Pincus who was like a father to us all, to share the exciting news personally, and he in turn wished me a hearty Mazal Tov and Refuah Sheleimah to both the infant and mother.  Three days later the Rav called me over after Shacharis and informed me that he was traveling to Yerushalayim that day and would be happy to deliver mother’s milk to the hospital….Presuming the Rav was traveling to the city center, which is nowhere near the hospital, I tried to dissuade him…yet Rav Shimshon refused to take no for an answer…This was the first of numerous trips that Rav Shimshon made on our behalf to the hospital.  Incidentally, the Rav ‘just so happened’ to travel to Yerushalayim every day for the next two weeks, and he insisted on delivering a daily shipment of mother’s milk to the hospital, since he was ‘going anyway, and what a shame to forfeit such an opportunity’.  I have no doubt that these trips were made especially on our behalf.

This level of chessed is already incomprehensible, but when the father came to take the baby home, he found out the full extent of Rav Shimshon’s chessed.  The first time that Rav Shimshon brought the milk, he suspected that the nurses had no intention of feeding the milk to the baby, as it takes more time and energy than feeding formula.  Accordingly, he obtained special authorization as the ‘Family Rabbi’, despite the fact that official hospital policy permits entry only to parents and grandparents.  He visited the emergency unit every day and with endless patience, fed the baby it’s mother’s milk.[6]

Needless to say, Rav Pincus reached a level of chessed beyond most of us, yet his example can motivate us to make a little extra effort in our fulfilment of the Mitzvos of Chessed – to love one’s fellow, and to emulate HaShem’s ways.

[1] Needless to say, there are a number of ways of fulfilling the Mitzva of ‘V’ahavta lereyecha kemocha’ – doing kindness is just one of them.

[2] It is important to note that the Rishonim point out that in most instances one is not obligated to do Chessed because of the concept of Chayecha kodmim – that one should put himself first.  However, doing Chessed is highly praiseworthy, and one should not be overly makpid on always putting himself first.

[3] In addition, there are situations where one Mitzva could apply while the other would not -for example, showing kindness to an animal could be a fulfillment of emulating HaShem but would not constitute the Mitzva of ‘V’ahavta lereyecha kemocha’ since that Mitzva only applies to one’s fellow Jews.

[4] In the Summary and Halacha Lemaaseh Section we will discuss other possible nafka minas between the two Mitzvos.

[5] This should not be at the expense of one’s own well-being or that of his family – such chessed is misplaced.  Evidently, Rav Pincus was on the level where there was no contradiction between his chessed for others and for his own family.

[6] ‘The Life of Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus’, pp.191-193.

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