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The Midrash relates that Avraham met Shem, the son of Noach, and asked him in what merit were he and his family privileged to go out of the Ark and were saved from the Flood. He answered, "In the merit of the charity which we performed there." Avraham asked him, "What charity were you able to perform there? There were no poor people there, just Noah and his children." Shem answered, "We performed charity with the wildlife. We couldn't sleep all night long; we were busy feeding everything according to its eating schedule. Once we were a bit late and the Lion wounded my father in protest."

Avraham then concluded, "If the kindness that they showed to animals is so great that in that merit they were saved from the Flood, imagine how much greater a mitzvah it will be if I perform loving kindness with human beings who are created in the liking of their Creator."

From this realization, Avraham became the great pillar of chessed upon which the world stood. And even until today, the Children of Avraham, the Jewish People, are outstanding in the characteristic of charity and goodwill to others.

But we must realize that it is not enough to be kind to those whom we love. The biggest mitzvah is to be kind to those with whom we are in a dispute. The following moving story from the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 34:14) delivers a very powerful message to all of us.

In the days of Rabbi Tanchuma, the Jews needed rain. They came before him and said, "Our Rabbi, declare a fast day so that it should rain." He decreed a fast day once and twice but it did not rain. The third time he got up and preached that everyone should take upon himself to perform a mitzvah. One man got up and took whatever money he had in his house and went out to distribute it.

On the way, he met his divorcee who said to him, "By my life, I assure you that since I left your house I haven't had a good day." Seeing her in her miserable plight, he had mercy on her and gave her funds as it says (Yesha'ayahu 58:7), "Do not neglect your own flesh."

Someone noticed this incident and came and reported it to Rabbi Tanchuma saying, "Rabbi, you are here, and improper behavior is there." The Rabbi asked him what he saw and he said, "I witnessed this man chatting with his divorcee and not only that but he even gave her money. If he weren't guilty of something immoral with her, he surely would not have given her money!"

Rabbi Tanchuma sent for the man and said to him, "My son, you know that the world is in pain and the people are suffering and yet you went and chatted with your divorcee and even gave her money! Surely if you weren't guilty of something immoral with her, you would not have given her money."

The man answered, "Rabbi, didn't you yourself teach us that one should not neglect his own flesh? Didn't you tell us to go out and perform a mitzvah? I went to do a mitzvah and I bumped into my divorcee. She said to me, 'By my life, I assure you that since I left your house I haven't had a good day.' Seeing her in her miserable plight, I had mercy on her and gave her funds as it says, 'Do not neglect your own flesh.'"

At that moment, Rabbi Tanchuma picked up his face to Heaven and said, "Master of the Universe, if this mortal man who is merely flesh and blood and is usually cruel, and did not have to support her, had compassion for her and gave her nevertheless; we, who are Your children's children, offspring of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, and You are supposed to support us, certainly, how much more so, should you be compassionate to us."

At that instant, rain descended and the world was relieved!

May we always do good deeds and bring salvation to the world and to ourselves.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel