Interpersonal Relating & Mitzvos
Chesed (Active Lovingkindness)

























There's a well known verse (Psalms 89:3), "The world will be built with chesed (lovingkindness)." It is a very intriguing verse which has profound and far-reaching ramifications.

One of the meanings is: the entire development and maintenance of a civil society in which people can live with each other requires people doing good things for each other. By practicing acts of lovingkindness, one person for the other, we can have a world which can endure.

Obviously, this means the Jew should constantly be doing pleasing and beneficial things for other Jews. But it means much more than that. For example, it means refraining and holding back from doing anything that is bad. We cannot cause another person loss, damage or suffering. We cannot neglect or avoid another person's needs or interests. It means active relieving of trouble, burden, disadvantage or suffering. It means being good-hearted and having a good attitude, treating people with respect, compassion and sensitivity. It means identifying a need, pain or trouble in another person and doing all that you can. It means influencing other people to do likewise. It means pursuing opportunities to do all the chesed that our circumstances and resources allow. And it means to love chesed as well as doing it with love.

Jewish law spells out what a person is required to do and what a person is required to be. The Jew is obligated to get along with and do good for others. We are not permitted to wait for opportunities to do kindness or charity. We must chase them (Mishlai 21:21). Each Jew is obligated to impose upon himself to seek after the good of fellow Jews and to toil to help others whether they are rich or poor, and this is one of the most stringent of fundamental requirements of each Jew (Shaaray Tshuva).

We must do charity and kindness actively, diligently, constantly and lovingly. This includes being active about chesed, being on the lookout for opportunities or creative ways to do chesed, thinking into ways to practice chesed, and seek ways to meaningfully aid and care about others. We will not wait until approached, asked or too uncomfortable to refuse. We should be on the alert for opportunities to do chesed as often as possible. We must do these with a good, cheerful, pleasant, respectful and caring attitude.

The Torah directs us in more than technical activities that we are to do (or, in the case of negative things, to refrain from doing). The Torah obligates us in becoming an elevated, refined, generous and holy person. The Torah obligates us to transform our character so that each Jew at essence is a person who stands for these good and spiritual attributes and activities. Good behaviors must be an expression of good intrinsic qualities, good-heartedness and good midos (traits, virtues). It is not enough to do good. It is also what the Torah wants us to be.



In the siddur (brought from the Talmud and said every morning), we read that chesed is one of the things in life

* which has no limit (there's no "too much") and

* for which a dividend of reward is given in this world but the principal of the reward is given in the eternal world.

The ramifications for every act of goodness that we do properly are massive. This makes the world function better. You make major contributions in others' lives. You create lasting benefits of enormous magnitude. The reward remains with your soul eternally. This is all very significant - this is not something to make light of.

Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai was walking with his disciple Rabbi Yehoshua past where the Bais HaMikdosh [Holy Temple] had stood. It had just been destroyed by the Romans and they had witnessed the destruction. Rabbi Yehoshua started crying. Rabbi Yochanan said to him, "Yehoshua, my son, why are you crying?"

"Because the House that gave us atonement for our sins no longer exists."

"You don't have to cry. It says in the prophet [Hoshea 6:6] that Hashem says, 'I want chesed, not sacrifices.' That tells us that every time that someone does a chesed, Hashem furnishes as much atonement as the sacrifices of the Holy Temple. Chesed is just as effective as the sacrifices to achieve atonement (Avos DeRebi Noson)."

The power of doing chesed with your own self, heart, energy, time and resources, is of such magnitude that it equals the atonement that the Bais HaMikdosh achieved for us when it existed. Now that we don't have the Holy Temple, we still have acts of kindness. Stop crying, start doing chesed!

Raba engaged in Torah learning and he lived 40 years. Abayai [who had comparable mazal] engaged in Torah learning and in acts of lovingkindness and he lived 60 years (Rosh Hashana 18a). Actually, Raba was a tzadik who both learned Torah and did lovingkindness (Sanhedrin 98b). So why did Abayai live a 50% longer life (since Raba and Abayei had comparable mazal, and both engaged in Torah as well as in acts of chesed)? Raba's engagement in chesed was more ordinary and Abayai's engagement in chesed was greater and intensive (Tosfos, Rosh Hashana 18a).

The Talmud brings a lovely story. It points out how important giving your personal effort and time is in the performance of chesed.

Tractate Taanis (23b) tells us that Aba Chilkia was a tzadik. When there was a drought, the townspeople came to his home to ask him to pray to Hashem for rain. He and his wife went to the roof and went to the opposite corners to pray. The clouds formed over his wife (answering her prayer). The people asked why the rain came in the merit of her prayer (since he was a tzadik). He answered that when he gives kindness, he does it by giving money to the poor, so that the recipient could go buy what he needs to sustain himself. When his wife gives kindness, she cooks and serves food herself, which is more direct, immediate and meaningful beneficence. She, herself, prepares and gives the food. She directly sustained Jews, so she merited to have her prayer answered that Hashem directly sustain Jews. Chesed is greater than charity because chesed is done through one's own self.

A holy tzadik did not have the merit to bring the rain and save the town from a prolonged drought. He did kindness with his money. He did kindness with her own self. It was her merit that prevailed upon Hashem to bring the rain and save the region. We see that it very important to approach the doing of kindness with your self and with your heart, being personally in the kindness, generating and doing the kindness, responding actively to what the recipient needs.

Hashem loved Avraham because he trained his family to give charity (Genesis 18:19 and Rashi there). On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we say in the prayer service that "Repentance, prayer and charity overturn the harsh Heavenly decree" (Machzor). "Charity will save from death" (Proverbs 10:2). "He who plants charity receives true reward" (Proverbs 11:18). Make no mistake; charity is very, very great in the eyes of the Torah. With all of the greatness, merit, virtue and reward that goes with charity; chesed is even more!

Rabbi Eliezer said that acts of kindness are greater than acts of charity, and the reward for acts of kindness is greater than the reward for acts of charity, as is seen from the prophetic verse (Hoshea 10:12), "Plant charity for yourself and harvest the fruit according to kindness." Charity is regarded as "planting" and when one plants there is no assurance of eating fruit. Acts of kindness are regarded as fruit, meaning that reward, "eating fruit," is assured. Reward for charity depends entirely upon the amount of kindness that is in it. There are three ways in which chesed (active lovingkindness) is greater than tzadaka (charity). Charity is done with money while kindness is done with money or the person himself. Charity is for the poor while kindness can be done for the poor or for the wealthy. Charity can only be done for the living while but kindness can be done for the living and for the departed (Suka 49b).

The gemora (Yevamos 79a) says that there are three signs that indicate a person is from among the Jewish people: the people of our nation are compassionate, bashful and are bestowers of active lovingkindness. In other words, when a person has all of these traits, it is "an identity badge," it is evidence that the person is truly a Jew.



Kindness is giving what a recipient wants, and doing it in the nicest possible way. The other person's materialism is your spirituality (Rabbi Yisroel Salanter). Kindness - whether with your spouse, children or the community at large - must be done with a cheerful and respectful attitude. The same way that you would like to be loved, respected and given to unconditionally, so does the next person.

Rabainu Bachya wrote that one's eternal reward for a mitzva is determined ENTIRELY by the quality of the internal intentions and feelings that one does it with.

The Prophet Mica (6:8) says, "He [G-d] told you what is good and what He requires of you; do justice, love kindness and walk modestly with your G-d." You have to DO justice. You don't have to love paying the next guy $35 for something you broke. Just DO it. When it comes to kindness, you must do it with LOVE. To merely do, shall we say, won't do! You must give your heart, warmth, concern, understanding, sincerity, zeal, and your smile. Yalkut (# 522, to Hoshea 6:6) says that acts of kindness that Jews do for each other are precious to G-d. And EVERYTHING must be done with modesty and humility.

Mica tells us that this is something which we have been told. We are accountable fully to act upon it. We know it and we must do it. Not only is it told to us but we were also told that it is good and required. We are not only told to do kindness. We must LOVE kindness. We must cherish chesed. It must not be for the purpose of being a braggart or big shot. Do chesed with modesty.

The Vilna Gaon says that doing what is required is called law. It is only when one voluntarily goes beyond the law that something is called chesed!...beyond the bottom-line demand of law!

When it comes to justice, we have to do it. Two people may be against each other but it is enough that each does what each has to. With chesed, you have to do more than law requires you to do, being from within yourself, going beyond yourself, loving chesed and the person who receives it from you.

The saintly Chafetz Chaim wrote a sefer on kindness. Its title uses the phrase in the above verse, "Ahavas Chesed" and stresses that chesed is to be done with love.

The Chafetz Chaim writes, in Ahavas Chesed, that the Jew should cleave to the trait of chesed. It is mandatory for the Jew to strive and to exert himself every single day to find opportunities and to do kindnesses every single day.

Doing chesed through oneself includes all ways in which a person can benefit another through his effort or time. This includes such forms of kindness as hospitality to guests, visiting and caring for the sick, making a bride and groom happy and providing them with their needs to set up a home, providing a funeral (with eulogies and burial), comforting mourners, making peace between people in a quarrel, giving interest-free monetary loans, lending articles, encouraging and cheering unhappy people, giving advice that you are competent to give and providing practical acts of help to those whose efforts on behalf of their needs are not sufficient.

The Torah requires that when any Jew is in need, that his fellow Jew lend him to provide for his need or trouble. The Chafetz Chaim (in Ahavas Chesed) analyzes this mitzva. He says that the mitzva to lend is not restricted to money. One of my Torah teachers, Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman, z'l, told me (based on the Chafetz Chaim) that we see from this that lending addresses a need, makes a person happy, removing a problem or a hurt. Therefore, it is a Torah mitzva anytime you lend a fellow Jew a pencil or a pot from your kitchen, or give change for the parking meter, anything. It is a Torah mitzva when you address that individual's need and allow him to borrow from you, no matter what the object may be.

When someone is in need or trouble, this makes him emotionally burdened and unhappy. The mitzva of lending him what he needs cures the unhappiness or feeling of pressure and worry.

Therefore, whenever any Jew does any Torah-sanctioned activity that takes away another's unhappiness or makes another person happy, whenever you give on behalf of the good of another Jew, whenever you do anything nice or thoughtful for another Jew, whenever you furnish peace of mind or emotional relief from hardship or suffering, particularly when you are giving way to your own will on behalf of the other person, you achieve the same basic thing as the commandment to lend someone to provide for his needs.

It is a chesed which is a mitzva from the Torah every time you do anything to take away another Jew's unhappiness and/or give another Jew happiness. If you tell someone the time, sooth a crying baby, serve your guest a food that he particularly likes, hand draw a heartwarming card that will cheer up someone who suffered a misfortune, give someone change for a parking meter, spend time with someone who is unhappy, give a car ride - you get a mitzva.

In addition, such mitzvos fulfill the Torah commandment to "love your fellow Jew as yourself," which Rabbi Akiva (Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4) says is the greatest principle in the Torah. This is especially true when you do things that you would want people to do for you (were you in comparable circumstances). In addition, such mitzvos can fulfill the Talmudic imperative to "never do to another that which is hateful to you" (Shabos 31a). This is especially true when you refrain from doing things to others that would be hateful were they done to you (under comparable circumstances). Keep in mind that there are objective conditions that different people respond to in the same way universally. For example, if you would like to be treated hospitably when you are traveling, would like a loan when in financial trouble or would like to be cared for attentively when sick, so should you treat others. Sometimes there are subjective factors. You have apply the factors (pressures, sensitivities, etc.) as they apply to the other person. If you don't care if you're treated hospitably when traveling, loaned money when in financial need or treated attentively when sick, remember to treat the next person based on what he needs and feels. Spare him from what is hateful or painful to him. If you can't provide the hospitality or loan that another needs, arrange for someone else to, so that the person has what he needs.

Never make light of doing chesed with words. Sincere, wise and heartfelt words can achieve enormous mitzvos which can do enormous good for people. Examples include: giving encouragement, cheering someone up, comforting, allowing another to talk out his worries or pains or frustrations, giving advice or tochacha (correction), spiritually influencing people, praying, saying Tehillim, teaching or speaking Torah. When speaking to people, always do so with discretion, gentleness, respect, privacy, confidentiality (secrecy). Proper use of verbal mitzvos are enormously meritorious and beneficial.

One of the most richly rewarded forms of kindness are those which involve waiting for another person who is doing something that he needs to do, particularly if leaving the person alone may subject him to risk of danger (tractate Brachos 5b-6a). Even if there is no danger, it is proper to wait; use the time to do something productive while you are waiting for the person (Tosfos). The Talmud (tractate Eruvin) tells of saintly Rabbi Praida, who worked as a Torah tutor. One of his students was slow to learn the lesson. Rabbi Praida gently and patiently repeated the lesson four hundred times, until the student got it. A voice came from Heaven and told him that for being so unselfish Rabbi Praida merited a longer life in this world and a larger portion in the eternal world. He gave patience generously. Heaven gave him patience generously. Patience is especially valuable when used to avoid fights, anger and differences - when preserving peace and pleasing fellow Jews. Patience opens up your heart to enable you to let another person into your heart (Alufainu Misubalim). Humility is a key good mida (Avoda Zara 20b), and patience is a measure of your humility (Rashi to Numbers 12:3).



The reward for mitzvos is great. It is important, however, to do a mitzva completely. For example, the mitzva of having guests has several parts: food, drink, lodging and escorting. Give the person food and rest in as royal and respectful a manner as your circumstances permit. The person is ready to leave, you don't just send him out the door. Walk the person out, accompany the person along the way (at least eight feet; and the more, the better). Get the person off in a nice way. Don't make the person feel that you want him out. Guide him (directions, "short cut," dangerous or complicated areas to avoid, etc.). This escorting the person out and making him feel good upon leaving is even greater than bringing the person in. This also means you've done the mitzva completely.

Since the recipient's needs define the mitzva, you don't necessarily thrust a "complete package" on someone unless they need it. If a person is hungry, but doesn't need to rest, provide a meal or nosh. If the person is tired but not hungry, give him a couch or bed to sleep on. If you are walking on the street and you see a stranger who looks lost, give him directions and (at least eight feet of) escort. Get him on his way to his destination is a warm, friendly and cheerful fashion. By giving the person what he needs, you've achieved the "complete mitzva" for that circumstance. Actively encourage, inspire and tells other to be kind, charitable and hospitable. Create opportunities for mitzvos to be done more. If you can't do an entire mitzva as is needed, split the whole into bite-size "do-able" parts.

For example, someone is coming in from out of town and needs a place to eat and sleep. You can only do one (you can feed the person but have no guest bed or you have a spare bed but no kitchen). Do the part of the mitzva which you can and give the other part of the mitzva to a neighbor. This way, in sum, you have arranged for the traveler to get all that he needs. Even though you gave the person food or bed (when the visitor needed both), you got the mitzva of CAUSING the guest to receive the rest of what he needed by arranging for your neighbor to give the rest of what the visitor needed. You did ALL that was in your power. You provided for ALL of the guest's needs to be satisfied. Your "mitzva account" has no deficiency.

One more example. A person has a major financial need. You can provide some money but no where near the entire amount needed. You give what you can and you take the person around to friends and relatives (or phone them to introduce the needy person) and advocate for his cause. You help him to collect all the money needed. If you suspect the person is a phoney, you will investigate his legitimacy - as a kindness to your family to whom you owe support, to legitimate and worthy causes that deserve your help and to the friends and relatives whose money would be sought. If it's a matter of life and death (so that time is of the essence) or if you don't know how to investigate legitimacy, call your rabbi with a shaalo. If the need is honest, you would be obligated to help the person thoroughly, compassionately and respectfully. If not, your obligation would be to protect all prospective donors against fraud.

Even though the mitzva should be complete, every component brings reward. This is clearly brought out in a story told of the wife of the Vilna Gaon, who (as the story indicates) was a very holy person.

The Vilna Gaon's wife had a neighbor with whom she was very close. The two women made a pact. When the first one between them would pass away, the departed one would come to the surviving one in a dream to tell something of what it is like in Heaven.

One of them passed away and, some days later, came to the surviving one in a dream, just as they agreed. The soul said, "Let me tell you one thing about Heaven. Do you remember one time you and I were asked by a poor person for money for a need? You and I walked together to a rich man's house to ask him to provide the needed money. When we were across the street from his house, he was just then coming out of his house. One of us raised a hand to get the rich man's attention. So exacting is the reward for good deeds, so thorough is the reward for every gesture and detail, there is eternal reward in Heaven for the raising of that hand for the sake of our mitzva."

When you show friendliness, cheerfulness, warmth, responsiveness and pleasantness, this is a chesed, on condition that it is sincere. This includes giving a greeting, asking how a person is and responding nicely to another's greeting. This also contributes to the mitzva of bringing peace, since such behavior promotes sholom between people.



G-d is a giver Who gives unconditionally. The Jew, ever required to emulate G-d, is a giver who gives unconditionally. Being human, life presents us with situations in which we have to take. The next person's giving makes us recipients. When the next person gives to us, we refrain from being takers by

* passively receiving what is given, not greedily taking

* feeling sincere appreciation

* value and love a person who gives to us (don't take anyone for granted)

* giving the other the opportunity to be a giver and do a mitzva.

We are involved in a question of attitude. Even when an act is, in mechanical terms, taking, the Jew's constant frame of mind is to be an unselfish and uncompromising giver.

We say in benching (grace after meals) that G-d IS good and DOES good (tov umayteev). Isn't it redundant to say He IS and DOES good? Wouldn't one term be enough? No. Someone can be good at essence, but if he doesn't act on that good essence, the good is abstract and, therefore, meaningless. I can sit in a closet all by myself for a whole lifetime. I'm harming no one. But I'm not doing a bit of good for anyone, either, until I do good actively for other people. This is a world of action, of doing.

On the other hand, if one does good, it could be with an evil, selfish or ulterior motive. I may want to get a favor which I need to use you for, I may be getting your guard down to knife you in the back. I may want your praise or approval. If actions don't originate from a pure, good essence, the actions are not necessarily fundamentally good. An action with a bad underlying essence or motive always remains bad.

We have to say that G-d IS good and DOES good: IS good at essence; DOES good in practical action. When we can characterize an entity's essence (is) and actions (does) as GOOD, that entity is genuinely, uniformly and thoroughly good.

There are two statements in the Torah that obligate you to assimilate and emulate G-d's noble and beneficent characteristics and actions.

"Acharai Hashem Elokaichem Taylaychu (conduct yourself towards people with G-d's midos [character traits]; taking care of other people, giving all forms of kindness and help, praying for needs or problems that are beyond your power or resources, increasing people's happiness and well-being; for example:) clothe the naked as G-d clothed Adam and Eve, visit the sick and tend to their needs as G-d visited Avraham right after Avraham's circumcision surgery at age 99, comforting mourners as G-d consoled Yitzchok after the death of his father Avraham, burying the dead as G-d Himself buried Moshe, and all forms of active bestowal of good; the Torah begins and ends with chesed (so that everything in the Torah has a tie to the topic of chesed; Talmud, Sota 14a)." Treat people the way G-d treats people.

Rambam (Hilchos Dayos; 1:5,6 and 7) writes that the Jew is to emulate G-d's traits, and to do so with goodness and holiness. "Vihalachtaw bidrachav (go in G-d's ways)." Behave actively towards people as Hashem behaves towards people. The way G-d is patient, merciful, compassionate, kind, etc. to people, so must you be to other people. The person who does this is acting in the "derech Hashem (way of G-d)," which is the goal of the descendants of Avraham (Genesis 18:19).

Inasmuch as G-d IS GOOD and DOES GOOD, it is an inescapable imperative incumbent on every Jew to BE and to DO true, objective and total good to/for others at all times.

To DO and to BE good is fundamental to shlaimus (completeness) as a Jew. In practical life, in daily behavior, the Jew must strive to BE good and DO good, in meaningful ways that are helpful, nice, pleasing and beneficial for others.

The prophet Jeremiah (9:22-23) writes, "Let not the wise one praise himself for his wisdom, let not the strong one praise himself for his strength, let not the rich one praise himself for his riches; but let the one who will, praise himself in this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am G-d Who does lovingkindness, justice and generosity on the earth, because in these I delight, says G-d."

These are two of the most beautiful verses in the Prophets. G-d takes being good and fair to others quite, if I may say, seriously. The message in these two verses is as strong as it is heartwarming. I ask my audiences, why does the prophet add "on earth?" Jeremiah's prophesy is clear: don't be arrogant, don't be a braggart, don't be a pompous snob; be nice, be kind, do the right things. When was the last time you were haughty on Jupiter? When was the last time you were a saint on Saturn? What is being added that I wouldn't otherwise know, so much so that the prophet had to specify "on earth?" Remember, wordings in the Bible and Talmud are precise and significant.

If I am good, nice, angelic, righteous in the abstract, it is worthless. Again, it must be ON EARTH. Kindness, justice, goodness only matter in down-to-earth, practical, real-life situations; when deliverable to ON EARTH recipients.

Further, the prophet is telling us that we have no basis to be arrogant or self-aggrandizing. Intellect, power and wealth are gifts given by G-d, for reasons known only to Him. If you must praise yourself for anything, praise yourself for what G-d likes: you steadily do kindness, justice and goodness in daily life. Realize that people are an opportunity and a test to practice the things in which G-d delights, and to influence others to practice these things steadily and generously. Better yet, if you want to praise, praise G-d for His generosity to you and realize that what He has given to you is for you to be administrator over. Resources are to be used for the constant practice of lovingkindness, justice and generosity ON EARTH. Gifts are RESPONSIBILITY, not food for bragging, indulgence and self-aggrandizement. G-d is not looking at what you have. G-d is looking at WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE. Will you BE and DO good TO others who are real-live people in practical real-life situations ON EARTH with your earthly abilities and resources? This is what would delight G-d with you.

And, the closer someone is to you, the higher the priority to BE and DO good TO him/her. And, there is no one closer than your spouse and children. ON EARTH.

The Torah tells us that G-d created man in His image. Remember at all times that the next person is of infinite worth and is a "product" of HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

The Chafetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed) says that "The image of G-d" tells us that a person who bestows kindness on people emulates Hashem Who bestows kindness on people. Performing a kind act reflects G-d's attributes. Someone who says to himself, "Why should I help others?" completely separates himself from G-dliness.

All people need chesed. "The world is built on chesed." Every single person, in different ways and at different times, needs others, in numerous ways. Even wealthy people may need loans. All need a source of livelihood. All need people to share in the celebration of happy events (wedding, bris, etc.), because someone alone cannot achieve full happiness. A grieving person needs others for comfort. Anyone with a heavy burden needs others to help with it. When one is away rom home, he needs hospitality. One who is sick needs other to visit and to care for him. When one dies, he needs other to arrange a funeral and to provide burial.

Besides these examples of chesed, life can present numerous opportunities to do chesed.

Do you know singles who you can help get a compatible shidduch? Do you know people who are quarrelling with whom you could strive to bring peace? If a person asks for "A" (e.g. he is bashful or afraid) and you discern that he really needs more than he asks for, can you give him all that he needs in a respectful and thoughtful manner? Can you give people a warm and friendly smile? Can you give a kind or sincerely encouraging word? Can you offer helpful advise? When you have to say "no" to someone who asks for charity, can you do it in an understanding and polite manner rather than in an abrupt or nasty way? Can you give someone change for the bus or parking meter? Can you lend someone your pencil? Can you pass or hand over an article that someone wants? Can you ease people's suffering? Are there chesed opportunities that other's reject that you can grab? Can you convey warmth and friendliness to people? Can you make adaptations to different people with different needs, situations or feelings? Can you sense someone'e problems and feel another's suffering? Can you anticipate a trouble and help before or without being asked - even for something that you do not deem necessary? Chesed is primarily measured by

* the recipient's need,

* your resources or capabilities,

* your drive for chasing opportunities to do chesed and

* your attitude in doing the chesed.



Rabbi Huna Ben Hanilai employed sixty bakers in the day and sixty more bakers in the night to supply bread to any Jew who needed it and he always kept his hand in his pocket in case a poor man be sensitive and feel shame while he fumbles in his pocket for money. Four doors in each of the four direction were open to his house and anyone who entered hungry left satisfied. In years of famine when he had wheat and barley, he placed them on the outside of his house so that those who were ashamed to take by day could take at night (Brachos). Avraham also had four doors to his home, in each of the four directions, to facilitate entry by guests. But he did not sit and wait for guests to come in. He used to go throughout the town and look for hungry people to bring home. He did not feed people according to their custom. He gave his guests rich delicacies beyond what they could normally afford. He built inns on the roads, filled them with food and drink so that those who pass by would partake and then bless G-d. Because of this, G-d blessed Avraham and gave him all that he wanted (Avos DeRebi Noson).

The father of the Baal Shem Tov, also named Eliezer, stationed employees at the boundary of his town. He instructed them to come to him to announce the arrival of the guest (not to bid that the guest come to Eliezer). This way, he would come to fetch the guest and save him the trouble of looking for a place to stay. He would offer money before offering food, understanding that money was a poor person's largest material concern. He was extraordinarily kind and hospitable to all sorts who were in need of hospitality. He patiently and generously served those who were rude, unkempt and unreligious.

One shabos afternoon, a vagabond (it is reported that he was Eliyahu HaNovie, sent to test Eliezer) showed up carrying a bag at the end of a stick, in flagrant violation of the holy sabbath. Eliezer was a kind and tolerant man and, instead of rebuking the beggar, he invited him to be his guest for shalosh seudos (the third meal), M'laveh Malka (the Saturday night meal) and to sleep over for night. On Sunday morning, before the guest's departure, Eliezer gave him money and food, making no mention of his profanation of Shabos and giving the beggar no cause to feel shame.

Eliyahu saw his kind behavior and good heart and said, "Heaven sent me to test you. Since you proved to be so kind to the worst of people, Heaven will reward you with a son who will enlighten the eyes of the Jewish nation." The son who was born to Eliezer was the Baal Shem Tov.

Rabbi Levi said (Vayikra Raba) even a person who doesn't have money or tangible property can do enormous kindness. Even one without possessions to give can give comforting words. King Solomon wrote (Proverbs 15:17) that a cheap meal with love is better than a luxurious meal with hate.

Rabbi Aba said in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish, "One who lends money is greater than the one who gives it away." Lending to someone poor or on the brink of financial collapse furnishes the money which is urgently needed while preserving the dignity and psychological well-being of the recipient.

A virtuous poor man had a virtuous wife. He had to hire himself out to work in a field. Once, while he was ploughing, he encountered Eliyahu in the guise of a beggar, who told him, "You have six years of wealth to your credit. When do you want them, now or at the end of your life?"

The man replied, "You are playing the fortune teller in the hope that I will give you charity. I have nothing to give you so go on your way." Eliyahu came back a second time and a third. Since he insisted so much, the man said that he would have to consult with his wife before he could reply. He came to her and, after telling her the story, he asked her advice. She said to ask that the six years of plenty be sent immediately. He went back and gave his reply. He was immediately told, "Go home, for the plenty has already come."

Just then, his children were playing and found in the dirt a treasure sufficient to maintain them for six years. They told their mother and when their father returned home, she told him the good news. He thanked Hashem and felt happy and satisfied.

His virtuous wife said, "Since Hashem has pitied us and given us enough money for six years, it behooves us to do acts of kindness during this time. Perhaps He will add to this amount from His treasury." She told her youngest son to write every day any sum which was given for a mitzva.

Six years later, Eliyahu returned and said, "The time has come to take away what you have." The man said, "When I took it, it was only after consulting my wife. When I give it back, I have to consult with her, so let me talk with her first." When she heard her husband's news, she said, "Go and tell him, 'If you have found people who are more fit than we are, take the money which you entrusted to us." When Hashem heard this reply and noted their many kind deeds, He blessed them with much more (Yalkut Shimoni Ruth).

Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair lived in a city in the south of eretz Yisroel. Two poor men came to seek a livelihood in that region and stopped over at his house. They left with him a small amount of barley and they forgot to come back for it before leaving the vicinity. Rabbi Pinchas sowed and reaped the barley year after year and stored it in a barn. Seven years later, the two men came back to the city and they remembered to call on the rabbi to collect their barley. He told them, "Go and bring donkeys and camels so you can take away your treasure (Yerushalmi Demai)."

People need help with both spiritual and material needs (Ahavas Chesed). In a similar vein, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said, "Most people are concerned about their materialism and the next person's spirituality. It should be the other way around. The Jew is obligated to be concerned with one's own spirituality and the next person's material well-being. The next person's material needs are your spirituality." We see from Ahavas Chesed and Rabbi Yisrael that the Torah wants balance.



Scripture urges, "Chase after chesed and tzadaka (active lovingkindness and generous charity (Proverbs 21:21)." It is not enough for the Jew to be kind or charitable when the opportunity comes to him or her. The Jew may not withhold any property, capability or power that one has. It is the Jew's job to pursue, if not create, opportunities to do meaningful, significant and profuse kindness and charity with every possible resource - money, talent, intellect, abilities, etc. (Maharal, Nesivos Olam). Let's see how Jewish individuals and couples can bring this to fruition.

In a healthy marriage, the couple can often undertake significant kindness projects with no shortchanging of the family's needs and no contradiction to the family's normal routine. To the extent that circumstances allow, encourage each other to do acts and projects of kindness and community service. If there are kindness-related subjects to talk about, this is good for the relationship. If there aren't community projects or kindness groups, a husband might consider encouraging your wife to form one. This can take on many forms, depending on the community, the needs, the resources and personalities available. The Jewish people are not merely a nation. We are all descendants of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yakov. WE ARE ALL COUSINS! WE ARE ALL FAMILY! Doing mitzvos for fellow Jew means doing good for extended family! One is hard put to find anything more constructive or fulfilling.

Some examples of woman-driven projects that have been successfully done (doing a lot of good for the communities and marriages involved) include such all-volunteer mitzva projects as:

* bikur cholim (visiting and caring for the needs of the sick in an organized and ongoing way - in private homes, nursing homes and hospitals) - one group has busses that leave every morning Sunday-Friday on a set schedule from Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn for all the major hospitals in Manhattan to visit Jewish patients (even strangers) bringing

* kosher food,

* shabos and holiday provisions and

* cheerful, encouraging conversation

(the busses return in the afternoon to get the women home in time to receive their children upon return from yeshiva); another group runs blood drives every two months (because blood can be healthily donated every 8 weeks) so that the local hospital can have a specific donation account of clean blood for the needs of the Jewish community; in a family in my neighborhood, the woman and her teenage daughter go to the local hospital on a regular schedule to visit Jewish patients and the mother also visits sick, elderly individuals (strangers) in their home or nearby hospitals, bringing food that she cooks and an hour of company for these immobilized people.

* neshei ahavas chesed - organized practical kindness. This group of dedicated women collects used furniture and household property and, on a waiting list basis, provides a selection of free furniture and other needed articles to newlywed and impoverished Jews, including immigrants from Russia, Iran and Israel, and to poor local families. Another division rents wedding gowns and items that allow making a "budget wedding" (e.g. artificial flowers) all at "break even" cost (borrower has to launder wedding gown before returning it). They have a health care division which avails wheelchairs, crutches, rides to doctors, etc. Different volunteers are responsible for each division, so that each runs efficiently. They seek donations of money and property. They publish a Jewish calendar each year which they distribute around the neighborhood to remind community members all year to donate money, used clothing, furniture, medical goods, etc.

* gemilus chesed - interest-free loan society for financial troubles and emergencies, or relief for the unemployed. Money is raised and loans are provided. Generally, there is an application. A co-signer or two may be required. Some do a small-scale credit check or require personal reference(s). Sometimes an upper limit is established for the amount of a loan e.g. three hundred, one thousand, two thousand, five thousand dollars. When loans are approved, the administrator collects head checks (e.g. fifty or a hundred dollars each) dated to be payable once per month, starting in a month or two, for as many months as it takes to pay the loan. The administrator may have all checks kept in a file, dated on a uniform date (e.g. the first, 15th or last of the month) to simplify the bookkeeping and the deposit function, or may offer a range of date-options (I know one loan society that offers the options of the 1st, 8th, 15th or 23rd - they are willing to deposit on four occasions per month). One shul has a loan society which gives the loan, to simply be paid back in full after a year. Some societies are flexible to truly accommodate the needs of the borrowers. The point, remember, is practical kindness.

* the "vaad (gathering)" - a support group for some self-improvement purpose. Two examples of relatively successful mitzva-vaad gatherings center around "lashon hora (the serious yet common sin of defaming speech)" or "midos (character development)." The groups offer feedback and share ideas. A group of same-gender people gets together regularly, e.g. once a week at a set time. If their goal is to work on lashon hora, the group will learn the many laws of prohibited speech (slander, gossip, talebearing, revealing secrets, etc.) and work on strategies for eliminating prohibited speech (e.g. everyone takes a couple hour shift every week during which they don't talk about people, working to find benefit of the doubt and exonerating circumstances if another person speaks about people, working on disbelieving or terminating conversations in which others speak about people). If the goal is midos (character traits), the group will study midos: good midos to practice and build, and bad ones to conquer and eliminate. Examples of midos are found in  the "Personal Growth and Self-Perfection" section of this site.

* impromptu kindnesses. When an elderly, impoverished neighbor - a Russian with no known family - passed away, one woman (on her own and all on the same day) organized a minyan and funeral, obtained a burial site, and raised the necessary money, to give a Jew a prompt and honorable funeral, as required by Torah law. Another woman provides a meal a day every day for an incapacitated and unemployable neighbor. Another woman delivers food packages on Fridays and the days before a Yom Tov to poor families in her neighborhood. I know at least two women (in separate communities) who each arrange a Torah lecture series for neighborhood women in each one's livingroom every shabos afternoon (during the winter, one arranges to have lecturers speak Friday evenings, when evenings come early - for the majority of the year, the lecturers come in the afternoon). I know of these because I was a guest lecturer in both series.

Men can also be involved in noble projects of all kinds. One dedicated man annually arranges the well-known all-day Tisha B'Av lecture program and the winter-vacation week-long learning program each December in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

There is a neighborhood in which the existing mikva was being used beyond its capacity. Another man in Flatbush was the catalyst for the construction of another mikva there (i.e. buying a lot and building an entire building!). He recruited fundraising volunteers, offered his business office facilities to design and send mailings, generated community involvement and support, organized a dinner, and personally administered the project for years.

A group of men in Boro Park, Brooklyn organizes meals provided at a recurrent Torah learning event, to attract Jews to learning Torah.

A friend of mine visited Israel about a year before this writing. One of his stops was at a school that gives free Torah education to approximately 1,000 Russian teenage boys. At one of the prayer services he saw that half of the boys did not own Tefillin. Upon his return to Brooklyn, he started an organization on his own to raise funds to buy 500 sets of kosher Tefillin (which cost a few hundred dollars per set) for the Russian boys who couldn't afford them. One of his methods is to meet with yeshiva deans to arrange involvement of the fathers of bar-mitzva age boys. When the fathers buy new Tefillin for their sons, they buy a second pair for one of the boys in the Israeli school. If the fathers can't afford to buy an extra set of Tefillin, they agree to reduce the expense of the bar-mitzva reception by the amount of the cost of Tefillin - and, thereby contribute the Tefillin for a Russian boy!

Couples can work together on kindness projects. The Torah tells us that Avraham and Sora left for the land of Kanaan. They took "the souls which they made in Charan (Genesis 12:5)." What is they meaning of "the souls which they made?"

Rashi explains that Avraham converted the men and Sora converted the women. When one brings a person "under the wings of the divine presence," when one spiritually elevates another Jew, the Torah counts it as if one "made" that person. Therefore, teaching Torah to one's fellow Jew is reckoned as creating the beneficiary (Sanhedrin 99b). This is a chesed of infinite proportions because one's Torah and soul are eternal.

Any Jewish man or woman who knows more Torah than some other man or woman is able to bestow the enormous chesed of teaching Torah, especially to someone who is off the Torah path or who is exposed to spiritual vulnerability in his life. Jewish husbands and wives can accomplish enormous chesed by teaching or sponsoring Torah classes at any and all levels. They can also open their home for classes and for outreach (kiruv) activities. As individuals or as couples (depending on individual circumstances), they can be today's Avraham and/or Sora who can "make souls" of today's Jewish men and women, who can create the "Torah potential" in other Jews.

People need help with both spiritual and material needs (Ahavas Chesed). In a similar vein, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said, "Most people are concerned about their materialism and the next person's spirituality. It should be the other way around. The Jew is obligated to be concerned with one's own spirituality and the next person's material well-being. The next person's material needs are your spirituality." We see from Ahavas Chesed and Rabbi Yisrael that the Torah wants balance.

One couple has organized a board consisting of volunteer community members (many of whom participate also as couples) which manages - operating basically like a big corporation (just more informally and out of each volunteer's home) - eleven kindness activities:

a. visiting, transporting, praying for and feeding the sick

b. free loan societies lending money, health care articles, used furniture, circumcision equipment, wedding & sheva bracha (wedding week) needs

c. hospitality for shabos, yom tov and travellers

d. matchmaking for singles

e. jobs (networking with prospective employers; resume assistance)

f. outreach to the unreligious (shabos and yom tov invitations, "adopt a family," tutoring)

g. tending to the dead (guarding the body till the funeral, tahara [purification procedure for the body], arranging a kosher funeral and the minyan in the homes of mourners)

h. crime patrols on neighborhood streets

i. child care (tutoring, shabos groups)

j. Torah classes, particularly for women

k. block coordinators.

These creative, dedicated and generous people do a lot of good. Do you wonder whether their spouses admire and love them for their mitzvos, projects and contributions? Do you wonder whether the children grow up better, receiving that good influence? Do you wonder whether constant practice of kindness and mercy to the community builds kindness and mercy towards one's spouse and children?

Getting out of oneself for the practical and meaningful good of others is one of the healthiest and most effective ways to take your thoughts away from your problems (in cases where there aren't deep underlying psychological problems or where you don't distract yourself from other compelling responsibilities).

To the extent that circumstances allow, do your communal work as modestly or secretively as possible. Your goal is contribution to Jews and service of G-d, not honor and glory. This is especially true of kindnesses of a charity nature wherein the recipients may feel embarrassment.



When you're involved in communal giving and kindness, you see marital trivialities for what they are. You don't have time for something that's truly unimportant - and you don't wish to allocate finite energies to nonsense, when there is so much good work to be done. You leave your marriage-related and family-related energies for what really matters. As Pirkei Avos (chapter two) teaches, "Torah together with productive activity keeps away sin." You practice being good to everybody, which should mean that you can stack up thousands or millions of mitzvos over a lifetime; and which should also mean that you learn, more and more all the time, how to be good to your spouse and family. And, doing good in ways that address real needs and feelings, is one of the most meaningful and fulfilling things that you can do with your life.

However, I must stress that the first priorities are your spouse, children and home. If responsibilities to these are all essentially in order, then, by all means spread out into meaningful community service and kindnesses. But not so as to neglect your first priorities: peace and security in your family. Laws of priorities are very complex. Take practical questions to an orthodox rabbi.

For example, you're a zealous husband and your wife is basically good-natured. You know it's a huge mitzva to have guests for shabos or guests who are traveling through your area. You would like guests every shabos. However, this is achieved through your wife's hard work, which she may often gladly agree to. Each and every shabos, before you bring in a flood of guests, you must take into account her overall work load, the condition she is in, her feelings. Does junior have a communicable disease? Maybe this week has to be a no-go. It's no mitzva to drown your wife or to give your guest diphtheria.

I know one couple that used to be exceptionally hospitable. A stressful change in their lives came about. Thereafter, having guests was straining, if not harming, their marriage. They were instructed by their rav to stop having guests. Their first "kindness priorities" were to their shalom bayis (marital peace, to each other) and their children. This had to continue for a good few years, until the situation cleared up.

I know a family that was very liberal about bringing guests. They had many every guests shabos and, often, people stayed for days or months when they needed a place. One time, a guest proved to be a bad influence on the children. The father decided that he had to protect the spiritual well-being of his family and he did more screening before he would bring in guests who he doesn't know. If he suspected the integrity or stability of the person, he learned to say "no," for the sake of his family. Incidentally, this family still has 5, 10 and 20 guests on a shabos or yom tov, still is willing to mekarev or mechazek (have guests who are not strongly observant - as long as they are "normal") and still occasionally has people staying over when they need a place to stay for a few days. The commitment to chesed is undiminished - but the list of recipients has been include his own family.

One more example. You know that it is a big mitzva to learn Torah. It is a sin to waste the precious and limited time of earthly life on secular trivialities. You only have one life for the accumulation of an eternity's-worth of Torah and mitzvos. Your wife needs to talk to you or she needs your help. Don't refuse. Giving concern and time to your wife when she needs you IS HOLINESS. Don't neglect or avoid her. You may never hurt her - even if passively! You must pursue peace with her - even if you don't see the need for the new chotchka (knick-knack or house decoration) for the house that she is crying for! It is a mitzva to help any Jew with a need or burden which (s)he can't handle alone. How much moreso for your "nearest 'n dearest?"

A menahel (spiritual director) of a Torah education institution in Brooklyn said of such people who quietly do substantive, generous and amazing mitzvos, "You never know who a Jew really is." We have some real gems out there. The Bible says it very nicely [as if speaking to G-d], "Who is like Your people Israel, a nation unique on earth? (1 Chronicles 17:21)."

I'll sum this section up with another statement from the Bible, which is in the habit of saying things very nicely. "The world will be built by active lovingkindness (Psalms 89:3)."



In Avos DeRebi Noson, The Talmud tells us that Daniel was beloved by his entire generation. He was a dynamo of chesed. What were the things for which his society loved him? He made weddings for poor brides, made funerals for poor families who lost a member, gave charity to the poor and he faced Jerusalem three times a day.

I can understand the first three items on the list of kindnesses for which Daniel's entire generation loved him - they are very generous and practical kindnesses. What is the last item that the Talmud cites? What does facing Jerusalem three times a day tell us? Why is this appropriate on a list of kindnesses for which his generation loved him?

Remember that the Biblical book of Daniel takes place in Babylonia (modern day Iraq). When Jews pray, we do so facing Jerusalem. We know that Daniel's facing Jerusalem three times a day means praying. But still, what does that have to do with a list of kindnesses for which Daniel was beloved?

Let's say you are performing the kindness of caring for a sick person. You sweep his room, you feed him, you go to the drug store and buy medicine. You take him to the doctor and even pay the doctor bill. The doctor says hope is very dim. You have done all that is humanly possibly. There is nothing more that any human can do.

Now that all human effort is exhausted, you pour your heart out in prayer to G-d. You say, "I have done all that is in my power. I have gladly expended all the resources at my disposal. The doctor says there is next to no hope. Only You can save this person. This person has many merits. Many people love this person. There are many good things that this person can do for other people. This person has not wronged others. Have mercy and heal this person with a speedy and full recovery."

Once human power has been exhausted - in other words, human chesed has been exhausted - and a person still needs more chesed, you achieve chesed when you pray to G-d that He pick up where human chesed leaves off. By praying that G-d give chesed to one whose need exceeds what humans can do, and you have done all that you possibly can - your prayer is chesed! Daniel prayed three times a day for those who he could do no more chesed for. WHEN HE DID ALL THAT HE COULD AND THEN PRAYED TO G-D ON BEHALF OF THESE PEOPLE FOR THE NEEDS THAT WERE BEYOND HUMAN CONTROL - THIS WAS CHESED and his entire generation loved him! Daniel's chesed was thorough. It included prayer to G-d on behalf of others for that which was beyond Daniel's doing. His personal limitation did not impose limitation on his chesed! Consider: G-d is infinite. To the extent that we bring G-d into our approach to chesed, our chesed can somewhat approach infinite.

Chesed means doing everything that you can do with your actions and resources to help a person and be kind to a person. When you have done all that you can and all that is in your power and control, chesed also means praying to Hashem. "Now that I have done all that I can, the rest is up to You. You help the person, You give salvation, You solve the trouble, You pick-up where human powers leave off." If a person is mortally ill, in need of more financial help than you can give, needs a shidduch, having a rough pregnancy, leaving on a dangerous voyage, you plead with Hashem to help in a kind, compassionate and effective manner. You pray that He picks up where human ability leaves off. "Please, Hashem, take care of so-and-so who needs such-and-such." When the matter "is in Hashem's hands," your regular praying on behalf of the person/people is chesed. Pick up a Tehillim. Do extra mitzvos, work extra hard to guard against sins. Influence other people to pray, add mitzvos and guard against sins. Encourage others to appreciate and do more chesed. The Chafetz Chaim says to teach other people to value and perform chesed of all kinds. Have kavana (intention) that G-d apply the extra merit on behalf of the person with need, suffering, trouble.



Keep in mind that the Temple was destroyed because of acts of petty, personal and purposeless hatred between Jews; Jews spoke lashon hora (defamation, slander) against one another; and because each one demanded his rights very strictly. The repair, obviously, comes from the reversing of these evils. Do acts of lovingkindness, speak well and favorably about Jews and be strict for the rights of others. We must be as good, loving, kind and generous to each other as we possibly can be at all times.

Hate, slander and strictness are in the human personality for their time and place, which are defined by halacha (Jewish law). These may be applied to an enemy of Jewry, Torah or G-d, as determined by high-level Torah authorities. When misplaced, they are frighteningly sinful and destructive. They destroyed the House in which G-d was served. Without authoritative, advance permission, always err on the side of loving, praising and giving in on behalf of other Jews. This will help to rebuild the House in which G-d will be served.

Enemies of Jewish people are analogies to our yaitzer hora (evil inclination) and internal tuma (spiritual filth). Hashem sends us enemies outside of ourselves to conquer us that match the enemies within ourselves who He requires us to conquer. Hashem requires that our yaitzer hatov (good force) vanquish the yaitzer hora, that kedusha (holiness) and tahara (spiritual purity) vanquish tuma, that Torah observance and merit vanquish sin and ill-will. Hashem conquers the enemies without when we conquer the enemies within. The ways the United Nation allies could fly over Iraq and drop bombs with accuracy, we should learn from the material model how to spiritually attack (in the milchemmess hayaitzer, the war against our internal forces) and have spiritual victory within. Further, we are obligated to influence and strengthen other people to behave better, to spiritually grow and to do things that curry Hashem's favor.

The verse in Psalms tells us that the world is built upon chesed. The capacity for people to work with each other, help each other, benefit each other, to identify and fulfill needs, to remove hurt and sadness, to soothe pain and trouble, to address vulnerability, to contribute to another's state; these promote unity, love and a common social order to progress in the consistent service of G-d in a harmonious and meaningful fashion, by virtue of Jews benefitting and pleasing each other.

If a person violates a commandment between man and G-d, the person does not diminish or hurt G-d. If a man does not put on t'fillin, eats traif, wears shatnez or uses an invalid esrog, he hurts his neshama (soul) but no one else. The "Other" with whom he is interacting (G-d) is not damaged or effected.

If a person violates a commandment between one person and another, there is concrete damage, loss, hurt, diminution. Such sins hurt the other's feelings, property, reputation, body, time, livelihood or dignity...even including intangible violations. If one does something wrong in a matter between himself and another person, he causes hurt, loss or damage to the other person. The Torah does not stand for that. Even intangible hurt is serious, in the eyes of the Torah. One may not, for example, hurt another's feelings, use a shaming nickname (even if the person permits it), waste a person's time (including showing up late for an appointment or making a person wait for you without just cause), give the impression that you want to buy when you do not intend to buy, embarrass a person in front of others, etc. Needless to say, a person is guilty and responsible for all tangible injury, loss or damage; whether to another's money, body, land, reputation or property. One must guard the next person or his property from damage and to save them from coming to damage. Not only is damaging or neglecting to guard against damage prohibited. One may not even turn one's eyes away to hide and make yourself like you don't see, so that you can excuse yourself or escape from responsibility to protecting from damage. If the threat is to the person himself, the Torah additionally says that we may not stand idly by the blood of our fellow Jew.

If we are in a position to do the opposite, on the positive side; to create benefit, satiety, comfort, happiness or help; to bring down barriers and separations between Jews so that we can be a unified nation of Hashem's children; we can see that chesed will promote unity and build the world.

We are created in the image of G-d (Genesis 1:27). G-d is One (Deuteronomy 4:4). To fulfill the obligation to emulate G-d, we not only have to practice as individuals His midos. We have to achieve oneness on a national level, on a grander scale, to manifest the image of G-d, so that we can perform G-d's will as a unified and national entity that is devoted to serving G-d.

When Moshe went to Paro to ask for freedom, he told Paro that Hashem said to send out His people that they can SERVE HASHEM. The purpose for freedom was for the creation of that nation which would serve Hashem. In the following sense, the greatest level of serving Hashem, and therefore achieving the Jews' national purpose, is mastery of lovingkindness!

The Vilna Gaon wrote in his commentary to Isaiah a nice insight into the mishna in Pirkei Avos which says that "The world stands on three things: Torah, divine service and bestowal of kindnesses." If you look into this, we see that there is an ascending gradation of three stages: the self, going beyond self to serve G-d and then the drive to give and to help one's fellow. The most basic level of life form is concern with self. When one comes to the level of looking beyond himself to the divine, he raises himself to a higher plain of humanity, which elevates one above the animal. not everyone achieves this level. The highest level of humanity is the one who thinks of anything and anyone not immediately concerned with his own self. One must study Torah to come to worship of Hashem, but one does not achieve worship of Hashem until one has become a master of lovingkindness. Treatment of fellow Jews with lovingkindness is the HIGHEST LEVEL OF SERVING HASHEM.



To actually fulfill the requirements of the mitzvos of chesed, one has to act on behalf of the good of other Jews. When you have shaalos (questions, practical situations), contact a rov or consult the seforim which address such issues because all matters of halacha must be fulfilled precisely and scrupulously.

The following digest of halachos on interpersonal mitzvos uses numerous sources, however some of the major sources include TaNaCH, Chazal, Shulchan Oruch, Kitzur Shulchan Oruch, Ahavas Chesed, Rambam, Halichos Olam [Kitzur Dinim Bain Odom Li'Chavairo], recent seforim and answers to shaalos that I have discussed with rabonim.



If a man is occupied with learning of Torah, his Torah takes precedence. When one is engaged in one mitzva, he is generally exempted from another mitzva. If while learning Torah the opportunity for chesed presents itself, if someone else is able to perform the chesed, the man should not interrupt his study. If, however, no one else is available or willing to perform the chesed, the law (Yora Daya 246:18) says to do the chesed. Since the person or cause means that there is need, you are required in order that the need be fulfilled. Then, when the chesed has been accomplished, return to your learning.

If more people request chesed (practical kindness) or tzadaka (charity) than you can provide, there is an elaborate and complex order of priorities which have to be studied or discussed with a Torah scholar. Generally, higher priorities go with the closer relative, the one who dwells in a location more close to you, the greater person in Torah, a Kohain over a Levi over a Yisroel over a momzer, a female over a male, a destitute person over a wealthy person, the greater the measure or suffering or weakness. Since actual cases can be complex (e.g. a talmid chochom momzer is over an ignorant Kohain), a rov must be asked who has the higher the priority.

Chesed means know who not to give kindness to. Although the halachos are very specific and the cases which apply are very limited, we are not allowed to give kindness, compassion and help to people or purposes Jewish law defines as cruel or sinful. By being good to an evil, perverse or destructive person or cause (giving lenient sentences to violent criminals) is being cruel to society. Likewise, when "alleged kindness" can cause pain or damage (giving too much candy to a little child whose teeth or tummy will suffer) is cruelty.

It is generally more meritorious to do many small acts of kindness or charity than to do fewer larger acts.

Ask your rov for practical case by case questions.



If a Jew is in need, whether he is rich or poor; especially if he needs to be saved from any kind of collapse, danger or trouble; it is an obligation to give him an interest free loan (Exodus 22:24, Ahavas Chesed, Leviticus 19:15). It is a positive mitzva to supply the loan and it is a prohibitive mitzva not to withhold the loan, so refraining violates two commandments. The mitzva applies to men and women, to rich and poor according to the person's means.

If you give a loan when another is in trouble, G-d guarantees to hear your prayer when you are in need (Isaiah 58:9). If you cannot lend the entire amount needed, give what you can and help the person find other people who can provide the rest of his needs.

The person with money has been given the money by G-d to give chesed and rachamim (kindness and mercy) to G-d's children. The person with the need has been given the obligation to give ne'emanuss and acharayuss (honesty and responsibility) in paying back according to all the terms and applicable halachos (laws).

The mitzva of lending also applies to property. You may refrain from lending if you have halachic cause to believe the person will not return what is owed (e.g. will break or lose property, will steal money or property, is lying about his need) but you may not refrain from lending due to your stinginess or due to indifference to the person's feeling's or situation.

When one borrows property, one must return that actual property, in satisfactory condition and on time. However, when one borrows something that is normally used in a way that makes it impossible to give that precise item back (e.g. food or cash), you may pay back with replacement property (you do not have to give back the same dollar bill that you borrowed, you can give back a different dollar bill). A person should never say "lend me an egg, a cigarette, a quarter for a pay phone;" when you will not truly pay back.

You must guard the dignity and feelings of all who request or receive loans.

When you have money that you could earn interest on (e.g. lend on interest to a non-Jew or make an interest-bearing investment), and a Jew needs a loan, you are obligated to lend to the money to the Jew for no interest.

You might be excused from lending in certain cases but you must ask a rov a shaalo because the considerations are varied and complicated. You do not have to jeopardize your livelihood or expose yourself to negative risk or consequence to give a loan; for example, if you:

* are in the banking or mortgage business and lend with "hetter iska" (partnering contract), your business is not required to give interest-free loans, or

* have a store that sells merchandise for cash, and giving credit could harm you such as by reducing needed cash-flow or buying power, you are not compelled to give credit, or

* give charity or a loan, when you will no longer have enough money to support yourself or family, this can cause you to need to take charity or a loan, or

* have genuine opportunity to use the money for a very major profit, or

* have objective reason to believe that a recipient might not be willing or able to pay the loan back, or

* need to keep money invested to earn interest to have money needed for life expenses.

You may not lie to excuse yourself from giving the loan but you may say diplomatically, when true, that circumstances do not permit you to give the loan.

The Torah commands us to lend money to our fellow Jew at no interest. The laws for this mitzva are extremely strong. Yet, the wording of the mitzva to lend (Shmos/Exodus 22:24) literally says, "If you will lend money to My people...". The Torah uses the word "if," which is seemingly weak language for such a strong mitzva. Daas Zekainim, commenting on the verse, deals with why. The Torah is teaching us that there are some people towards whom lending is optional: people who borrow and do not pay back.

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetski, z'l, once gave an interesting ruling on a shaalo relating to the laws of lending. A yeshiva was in serious need of funds. The Rosh HaYeshiva was applying for a $5,000 loan at interest from a local bank. A man who knew the Rosh HaYeshiva wanted to save the yeshiva the interest and indignity of the bank loan. However, his money was invested at a very high rate of interest and lending the yeshiva $5,000 would have meant a significant sacrifice of earnings. The Rosh HaYeshiva was a man of unquestionable integrity and could be relied upon to fully keep his word and honor all obligations. The man asked a posek (rabbinic law authority) whether he should lend the yeshiva the $5,000 (saving the yeshiva from the bank loan, but with a big financial sacrifice for himself) or give an outright tzadaka donation to the yeshiva for the value of the bank interest (so, at least, the yeshiva would not lose the value of the interest, while the man would have a smaller financial sacrifice). The rabbi said that this was a very hard question and that he would take it to Reb Yaakov, one of the leading Torah scholars alive at the time, who the posek knew personally. Rabbi Kaminetzki said that the man should lend the money and that the reward in olam haba (the world to come) for the monetary sacrifice would be great [heard personally from the posek].

Primary considerations in deciding whether to lend and the amount to lend can vary according to:

* what you can afford,

* how pressing the need is in the potential borrower,

* the number of people needing to borrow from you,

* the halachic priority order for lending to various people,

* the integrity of any potential borrower and

* the duration of any loan.

The terms of the loan must be written so that there will be no confusion or quarrel; and there must be two kosher witnesses to validate the document, or one or more co-signer(s) or a deposit to guarantee the repayment.

In Torah law, all monetary matters (borrowing, stealing, cheating, paying debts, etc.) are serious. In the subject of loans, failure to repay a small amount (pruta) is just as sinful as failure to repay a large amount (may'ah). Repayment of a loan is not any less obligatory if the amount borrowed is small or if the borrower comes on hard times. If one dies owing another a pruta, he is not allowed to enter Gan Aiden. The lender is not allowed to ask the borrower for repayment if the borrower is destitute and has no property. However, the lender may ask the borrower for repayment if the borrower has money or has property that could be sold for money to repay with. As much as the lender is obligated to be considerate, the borrower is more obligated to be honorable.

For certain cases with a complex combination of positive and negative factors (e.g. an honest person with no financial prospects), the Chafetz Chaim suggests to tell the borrower, "This is a loan and you will pay it back when you can." You consider it tzadaka and "take it off maaser" (take it from the tzadaka money that you give) until the person pays back.

When you have a difficult shaalo and are considering whether to give any loan or not, 1. follow the teaching of the mishna (Pirkei Avos, chap. 2) which tells us to weigh the reward of a mitzva against its loss and 2. bring the shaalo to a rov.



Hachnosas Orchim is achieved by providing food, drink, rest, the ability to wash up, and, when your guest is leaving, escort at least eight feet (two meters) on his way, including giving any directions, "short cut," advice or warnings about his route.

If the guest is a poor person or a Torah sage, your feeding him at your table and pleasing him and conducting yourself with a pleasant and good-hearted attitude is considered by G-d on the same level as a sacrifice in the Holy Temple. If one refuses to please a Torah scholar with hospitality, his punishment will be seeing no blessing from his properties.

Offer the guest rest, if he has been traveling; and place before him food and drink in case he might be too embarrassed to ask. The guest should be served with zeal and honor and with the best that the host is able to offer. The host, and not servants, should serve the guests, and the host should actually give more than he offers, as Avraham Avinu did for his guests. This should all be done with a pleasant and smiling countenance. Treat the guest the way you would want to be treated if you were the traveller - hungry, tired, lost.

If you cannot perform every part of the mitzva, do what you can. If, for example, you can feed a guest but do not have any spare bed, arrange for him to sleep with a neighbor. If you meet someone from out-of-town on the street, who does not need hospitality but is unfamiliar with the vicinity or with how to get where he needs to, give him the directions he wants, or instructions how to get around your area most conveniently, etc. and this counts as the "escort" part of the mitzva. If you live in an apartment and the hallway outside is too small to permit eight feet of escort with your guest, you can escort the guest for eight feet inside your apartment till the stairway or elevator in the hall. The escort must be very pleasant and respectful. It must make the guest feel like you are not "just throwing him out." You are starting him off on his way to make him comfortable about, and to be prepared for undertaking, his journey. Escort is one of the most important parts of the mitzva. Its reward is greater than that of all other parts. It should never be omitted. If you have an extra bed but no food in the house, let him come to rest. The obligation is to provide for the guest according to what you are able. If you are sick in a way that is non-dangerous and non-contagious, you are not exempt from the mitzva of hospitality to guests.

You do not have to make yourself vulnerable to danger or harm from the guest e.g. you do not have to accept someone as a guest if you suspect (s)he is a criminal or has mental problems.

A man who is alone can invite men. A woman who is alone can invite women. A married couple can invite men, women or couples. If an opposite gender person needs food, a man or woman can bring food out of the door without bringing hungry person in. If a person requests food, we do not inspect whether need is genuine but we give food immediately. If a person request clothes, we have the right to inspect whether the need is genuine or whether the person is a swindler.



The mitzva to visit and care for the sick applies to all Jews. There are exceptions. An enemy does not visit the sick person who may feel the enemy is happy about his sickness. One does not visit if the sick person's condition is one that he would be embarrassed about when visited.

Those who are accustomed to being in steady contact with the sick person visit him immediately upon hearing that he became sick. Those who are not accustomed to being in steady contact visit him after three days. If the illness came on suddenly, if the sick person wants company, has no one else or is seriously ill, any one can come immediately. The sick person should enjoy the visit and not be strained or made to suffer by it.

The most important parts of the mitzva is to see what needs to be done for the patient (such as providing a doctor, medicine, food, cleaning of his bedroom, help with his will or help settling his earthly affairs) and praying regularly for G-d's mercy for the patient's recovery. Use the patient's Jewish name and his mother's Jewish name for prayer or Tehillim; with "ben" for a male and "bas" ["bat" if the person praying is Sefardi] for a female; for example Yosef ben Devorah or Sarah bas Devorah. Without these (providing practical needs and praying to Hashem for mercy), the mitzva has not been accomplished. When you pray, include all Jewish sick in the prayer, as well as the individual patient, because the merit of praying for many is greater than the merit of praying for one person. If it is Shabos, one only says "Shabos hee mi'lizoke urfua krova livo" and if it is Yom Tov, one only says, "Yom Tov hu mi'lizoke urfua krova livo." One who could pray for the sick but does not is a sinner. One who does not attend to or who hides from the sick is considered responsible for the sick person's endangerment or death. Perhaps his help, prayer or advice would have saved the patient's life.

The first and last three hours of the day are not the time for visiting the sick, unless you cannot visit any other time due to causes beyond your control.

If the patient is poor, spending money to help him counts as tzadaka (the mitzva of charity). If you can help the sick person do tshuva (repentance from sins, return to G-d and Torah), this is meritorious for himself and the patient. If a patient's illness precludes being visited (e.g. it would be embarrassing or painful), you can visit the front of the house and have a family member say that you were there (of course, you will pray and find out if there is anything practical you can do).



It is a huge mitzva to comfort mourners. The gemora refers to it as an example of emulating G-d (Sotah 14a). It is especially important to visit someone who may not have many visitors or who would mind your not having come.

It is forbidden to start speaking. Wait until the mourner speaks first and then you may reply. When possible, discuss good and endearing qualities of the deceased. If the mourner disengages himself, the visitor then leaves.

The mourner is to sit on a low chair and does not rise even for a distinguished person. If he does rise, the visitor does not tell him to sit. Neither the visitor nor mourner may say that the situation is punishment for an evil act. Do not say to a mourner, "What can you do?" because it is not possible to change what G-d has done and such a statement is somewhat blasphemy. One must accept the decree of G-d.

If the mourner offers food or drink to the visitor, the visitor is not to accept it nor to allow the mourner to serve him.

It is a mitzva to comfort anyone who is suffering in any way.



It is a mitzva to give charity to the poor and to support Torah. It is a sin to hide one's eye from the poor. The mitzva of tzadaka indicates one is a descendant of Avraham Avinu and is such a great mitzva that it saves one from death and misfortune, it adds blessing in his home and it is greater than all of the sacrifices of the Holy Temple. One who gives tzadaka according to halacha does not lose. Hashem sends that money back to the giver, in time. This mitzva is the one area in which Hashem says that we have permission to test Him: give charity according to halacha and He promises to give you more back than you gave! If one does not give due money to the poor, he will be made sick and the money is given to doctors and he or his descendants will be poor and depend upon charity at a subsequent time. The one who is callous evokes G-d's fury. Chazal tell us that the way we treat another is the way G-d treats us, "measure for measure" (Sota 8b). Heaven gives compassion to each person who gives compassion to people; and Heaven withholds compassion from each person who withholds compassion from people (Shabos 151b). We must emulate G-d's traits (Sota 14a) and be holy (Leviticus 19:2).

A person must not think money is his. Money is a tool given by G-d to do His will with. A person must give according to his means, whether poor or rich. He must give at least ten percent of his after-tax income. If he is financially well off, he may give up to twenty percent. On one's deathbed, he may give up to one third of his possessions to charity. If he is poor - even if he sustains himself from charity - and could not sustain himself when he gives ten percent, he is obligated to separate ten percent like everyone else but he may "give" some or all to himself to provide for his needs. He gives away what he can, after his basic needs and that of his family are provided for. If he would need all of his money to sustain himself and his family, he is then exempt from giving.

One who does not need charity is forbidden to accept it. One who does need it is required to accept it or he is considered to be murdering himself. However, one should distance himself from needing tzadaka, even if he has to make his shabos no better than his weekdays, in order to not need to depend upon others, and even if he has to support himself in an unpleasant profession. If one can live without taking charity, even though he suffers, so as not to impose upon the community, his reward for living with sacrifice and pain will be great: he will in the end be so well off that he will give charity to support others.

One may take charity if this supports him while he is diligently and seriously learning Torah.

If a man and woman come to your door at the same time and you only have enough money to give to one, give to the woman because it is more embarrassing for her to go around to doorways.

You do not need to give a large amount to someone who you do not know, to fulfill the mitzva. If it is someone whose need you know to be genuine, the optimum mitzva is to provide what he is lacking. If asked for food, we give it immediately without investigating whether the need is true.

If one gives a generous amount but does so in an unfriendly, humiliating or mean way; all of the merit and reward are canceled and he only has a sin. Charity must be given in a happy, cordial and pleasant manner and, if the poor person feels broken or crushed because of his difficult situation, the giver must speak in a comforting and compassionate manner, the way a father speaks compassionately to his child.

If the charity can be given anonymously, this saves the poor person embarrassment and this is a high level mitzva. One should never obtain any glory from his giving charity.

One can give his due tzadaka in small increments throughout the year. The Jewish year should be used as the accounting period. One should completely finish giving out all tzadaka allocations for each year before Rosh HaShanah. One should motivate others to give their due tzadaka.

If you can, give or lend money so the poor person can start a business, or give him employment so that the poor person can come to support himself.