In Parshat Noach
we read how G-d saved No’ach and his family from the flood that destroyed the world. According to a Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 33:3
), one of the reasons they were saved was in the merit of the kindness they did in the ark by feeding all the animals. This is alluded to in the verse which says (Gen. 8:1
), “G-d remembered No’ach and all the beasts and all the cattle.” This can be understood (see Yefei To’ar on the above Midrash) to mean that G-d remembered No’ach in the merit of how he treated the animals in the ark. As the Midrash says, “In what merit did He remember him? It was that he fed and sustained (the animals) for 12 months.” Although the verse that G-d “remembered” No’ach is written several months before they exited from the ark and No’ach had not yet fed them a full 12 months, nevertheless G-d was aware that he would finish the job reliably. He therefore counted it as a merit even beforehand, and thanks to that merit, He abated the floodwaters, and No’ach exited the ark at a sooner time. (As mentioned in the beginning of the Torah portion , they had other merits which earned them a spot in the ark in the first place [Yefeh To’ar].)
) speaks about the effort No’ach and his family put towards feeding the animals on the ark. It quotes Shem, son of No’ach, as recounting “We experienced great suffering in the ark [caring for the animals]. Where there was a creature that typically feeds during the day, we fed it during the day, and where there was a creature that typically feeds at night, we fed it at night.”
Reversing the Destruction
According to the commentaries, the final sin that brought about the flood was that of stealing, which is the exact opposite of kindness, as the Talmud says (Sanhedrin 108a
, quoted in Rashi on Gen. 6:13
), “Their verdict was sealed only because of robbery.” Thus, in order to reverse this destruction and merit to rebuild the world, it was necessary for Noach and his sons to perform acts of kindness, which is in exact contrast to stealing.
Why Was Stealing the Final Straw?
The commentaries question why the verdict for the earth to be destroyed was sealed due to the sin of stealing as opposed to the many more severe sins that they had transgressed, as the verse says (Gen. 6:11), “The earth was corrupt before G-d,” which, according to Rashi, refers to idolatry and sexual immorality.
They offer several answers:
- Kindness – A Foundation of the World
The Mishna says (Avot 1:17
), “By three things the world is sustained: law, truth, and peace,” as Isaiah, the prophet, said (45:18
), “He did not create [the world] to be a wasteland; He formed it to be inhabited.” If a society cannot keep basic property laws, the world becomes an inhabitable place and has no “basis on which to stand.” [Be’er Sheva on Sanhedrin ibid, quoted in the Yalkut Bi’urim of the Metivta Shas]
- G-d Punishes More Swiftly for Sins Against a Fellow-Man
Although the sins of idolatry and immorality are more severe than that of stealing, they are (primarily) sins against G-d. (The sin of immorality includes forbidden sexual unions between consenting, unmarried adults, such as homosexuality.) Stealing, on the other hand, is a sin against a fellow-man.
G-d punishes us more severely for sins against one’s fellow man. We learn this from the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Although the citizens of these cities sinned in many terrible ways (see, for example, Gen. 19:5
), G-d decided to destroy them because of how they treated other, more vulnerable, people, as the verse (Gen. 18:21
) says, G-d said, “I will descend now and see, whether they have done according to the cry which has come to Me…” The “cry” is referring to the outcry of those who were unlawfully oppressed (see Rashi on the verse based on Sanhedrin 109b). (Be’er Sheva, ibid]
- The World was Self-Destructing
The Maharal (in Chidushei Agaddot on Sanhedrin ibid) explains that G-d is not generally quick to punish people. Instead, He delays executing punishment in the hope that people will do teshuvah. But if people are destroying the world themselves (for example, by stealing, which ruins the very basis of society), then G-d has no reason to delay punishing them.
Most other sins are a one-time act. But when a person steals and does not repay, the sin is considered to continue – until he repays it. This is why the Talmud (Bava Metzi’ah 59a
and Rashi there) says that stealing is one of the sins for which G-d punishes more quickly.
Kindness Builds the World
According to many early sources (quoted here
), one of the reasons G-d created the world is so that human beings could be kind to each other. Here are some of these sources:
- “The World is Built with Kindness”
King David said in Tehillim (89:3
), עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יבָּנֶה which can be translated to mean, “The world is built through kindness.” The Midrash (Shochar Tov on the verse)
compares this to a four-legged table that has one shaky leg. In order to ensure that the table remains standing, one might wedge a small stone to support the shaky leg. So, too, when G-d created the world, it was “shaking” (i.e., its future was in doubt) until G-d strengthened it with kindness, i.e., by instructing us to perform acts of kindness.
The Talmud (Eiruvin 86a
) said that G-d is considered to be enthroned in this world (i.e., His presence is established) when people perform acts of kindness and truth.
The Midrash (Berishit Rabbah 12:9
) says that the world was created in the merit of our patriarch Avraham. This is based on the verse (Gen. 2:4
) that says אלה תולדות השמים והארץ בהבראם – “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” If one rearranges the letters of the word ,בהבראם it spells באברהם. As such the verse can be understood to be saying that the generations of the heavens and earth were created for the sake of Avraham. Since Avraham was the epitome of kindness, the Midrash means to say that it is in the merit of the kindness of Avraham (and others like him) that the world was created (Rabbeinu Bachaye on the verse).
Acts of Kindness
Rabbi Eliezer Papo
(1785 – 1828 of Bulgaria) gives many simple examples of acts of kindness (Peleh Yo’etz, entries Ahavat Rei’im, Chessed, and Nedivut). Here are some of them:
- To open the door for someone who is knocking
- To give change to someone who needs it (i.e, to change large money for small money). In fact, Rabbi Popo mentions that some people go out of their way to carry change to be able to assist people who need to change their money.
- To pass someone something
- To lend someone an item he can use. (Rabbi Papu recommends that one acquire items specifically in order to be able to lend them.)
- Having guests
- Teaching someone Torah (for free)
- To give rebuke and encourage a sinner to do Teshuvah
- To pray for the soul of a departed friend
- To mention the teaching of a Torah sage after he passes away. This elevates his soul.
- To honor one’s spouse
- To assist them (or one’s children) when they need assistance. By doing any mitzvah one brings blessing to the world and pleasure to one’s parents. As such every mitzvah is considered an act of kindness.
- To tell people good news
- To give sound advice
- When buying from a fellow Jew, to not bargain down the price. On the contrary, it is good to pay a slightly higher price so that the seller can make a good profit. This is especially true if the seller is poor. Similarly, one selling to a fellow-Jew should give him a good price so that the buyer saves money. As above, this is especially true if the buyer is poor. This is an even greater act of kindness than giving him tzedaka as it allows him to make money honestly and honorably.
- To cover or remove something disgusting that is in public view (like a dead animal) (Ya’alzu Chassidim, page 275).
- To allow someone to pass you on the road if he wishes to do so (ibid, page 239)
Do a Favor Every Day
The Chafetz Chayim writes (Ahavat Chesed, 2:12
) that just as one must make sure to study Torah, one should also make sure that a day does not go by in which he does not perform an act of kindness for a fellow-Jew. Thus, Rabbi Chaim Vital (Sha’ar HaKedusha 2:2) said that a person who did not do these things should sigh and say, “Woe is to me that the day has passed, and I did not study Torah and perform acts of kindness.”
Just as Torah study and prayer are (spiritual) pillars holding up the world, the same is true of performing acts of kindness. According to Kabbalistic writings, every day of a person’s life is essential for the perfection of one’s soul. As such, each day must be filled with appropriate holiness. This includes both Torah study, which leads one to love G-d, and performing acts of kindness, which is how we can emulate our Creator.
One should not think that he can fulfill his obligation by doing someone a favor every few weeks. On the contrary, one should make sure to do favors for others every day and even many times a day if needed.
Why Every Day?
The Chatam Sofer (Siddur Chatan Sofer Inyanei Tzedakah, page 270) explains that, due to our sins, there can be a Divine judgment against us every single day. So we need Divine grace on a daily basis in order to be judged favorably. We can earn this “daily grace” by performing acts of kindness every day.
Waking up the Bachurim
It is told that Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian
(1876 – 1970 of Poland, England, and Israel) would awaken the yeshivah students in the Yeshivah of Kfar Chassidim where he taught in his old age (he moved there when he was 76). When he was asked why he chose to do that task, he explained: “Every Jew is supposed to do a favor for other Jews every day. But because of my advanced age, people do not ‘trouble’ me to ask me for favors. As such, I decided to do a daily favor for the students and wake them up for prayers and Torah study. In addition, whenever he washed his hands, Rabbi Lopian would make sure to fill the washing cup for the next person.”
May We Merit to Emulate G-d’s Ways and Establish this World With Kindness!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!