Monday, March 26, 2012

What is Chesed?

Guest Post by Rivkie Greenland*

*The following was written by Rivkie Greenland (my daughter) as an introduction to a Shiur that was delivered L'Iluy N ishmas Reuven ben Menachem Mordechai on the day of his funeral. The topic of the Shiur was Chesed. It was delivered by her at the Yeshiva University Kollel Torah MiTzion Girls Learning Program.

I remember once crossing the street in downtown Chicago many years back. I was running late to work and I tripped and dropped all my papers all over the ground in the middle of the street. A man came to my side, bent down, helped me collect my papers and said to me “There. That’s my good deed for the day.”

I clearly remember stopping in my tracks and thinking... “Good deed for the day?”…. FOR THE DAY? What did that mean “for the day?”

The reason I had that reaction is because in yiddishkeit, chesed has no limits. In fact, as we say in davening every morning it is a mitzvah rewarded in this world and in the next. The ramifications for every act of chesed that we do properly are therefore massive.

In Tehillim is says “ Olam Chesed Yibaneh” The world is built with chesed. We often hear chesed translated as “loving kindness” but it is so much more than this. It’s so much deeper. It’s what we do for people without payback or cause. It’s being proactive towards another person for no other reason than there is a need to fill. 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. And influencing others to do the same. It means pursuing opportunities to do all the chesed that our circumstances and resources including our talents and our kochos allow. Really giving till it hurts. And it means to love chesed, and to do it with love.

And what is the ultimate act of chesed? We know it as a chesed shel emes. That is the term used to describe the task of preparing a body for burial (taharos). There is no greater chesed than this because there is absolutely no payback. And in most cases, no one will ever know who did this chesed for whom. It’s kept very quiet.

There’s a story of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai who was walking with his Talmid Rabbi Yehoshua past where the Bais Hamikdash had stood. It had just been destroyed by the Romans and they had witnessed the destruction. Rabbi Yehoshua started crying and Rabbi Yochanan said to him, "Yehoshua, my son, why are you crying?"

He answered, "Because the house that Hashem gave us to be atone for our aveiros, no longer exists."

"You don't have to cry,” says Rabbi Yochanan. It says in Hoshea, that Hashem said, 'I want chesed, not korbanos.' We see from this that every time that someone does a chesed, Hashem sees it as though they are actually giving a koban in the Beis Hamkidash. The chesed itself is just as effective as the korbanos are for atonement.

When I was younger, and someone would say the word chesed, the first image that popped into my head was the person who helped an old lady cross the street. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I saw that picture in children’s book once. Truthfully, I actually can’t remember the last time I helped an old lady cross the street. This is not to say it’s not a chesed. It is. But as I grew up, matured, and started paying attention, I began to see chesed performed as an adult. And that only scratched the surface of what chesed really means.

I watched my mother put a coke by our front door every day for the mail carrier—summer and winter! I watched her roll down her window many times to offer a ride to an older person or just someone walking down the street. I saw her take elderly people shopping to Jewel (a major grocery store), drive them home, and help them take their groceries into their homes. I saw her spend hours on the phone trying to set up taharos. I saw my parents open their home to so many people who just needed a meal for shabbos.

But, I really got a dose of learning in these past few years, watching all of the hundreds of people in both here in Chicago and in St Louis who exemplify this middah especially with regards to helping my sister Tovi and her family.

Whether it was a hour after school; overnight help; babysitting so she could run errands or go out for the evening; preparing meals; monetary assistance that helped pay for the many extra things Reuven needed.

The shadows (young people hired to stay with Reuven and attend to his needs away from home) who did their jobs helping Reuven with respect and love; extra curricular fun programs so the family could relax and enjoy; the Davening and the tehillim; the challah baking... There was never an end to the offers. Nor did people take no for an answer. People just came… and did. They came with love - quietly and without fanfare.

My sister wanted to relay the message that every time people came for an hour or two to help, it was as if they gave her an entire day. She wanted everyone to know that those who gave will never understand how much they helped her and that she truly feels like the chesed she received from them helped her accomplish all that she needed to accomplish in taking care of Reuven, z”l.

Finally, we are so very blessed to have been able to see very clearly the chesed of Hashem running thru the veins of the entire course of Reuven’s illness.

The chesed which placed my sister’s family in communities who either were actual family or acted just as if they were, so that she could accomplish the what she needed to.

The chesed of Hashem who put Reuven in a hospital that gave him doctors who were willing to go to the ends of the earth, literally, to learn a procedure which saved Reuven’s arm.

The chesed of Hashem that gave my brother in law, the opportunity to find a job in his hometown knowing that all the love and support they could ever need would be right there.

The chesed of Hashem that blessed their family with twin boys right in the middle of Reueven’s bone marrow transplant.

The chesed that although Reuven was in the hospital right before their brisin, that he and my brother in law came home in time to be there and participate in their bris of their newborn sons.

The chesed of finding them a resource- a special person who has been conducting cancer related nutrition research for the past 17 years and gave them an open door to help Reuven live the best quality of life in these past couple of years.

The list goes on and on. And I’m sure my sister would add a thousand things. Of course, the ultimate chesed, of Hashem, being that in the exact moment he wanted to take Reuven from this world, he did so in the most peaceful calm way, not causing Reuven or his family to suffer even one ounce. The sudden shock of Reuven’s sudden death was also the ultimate chesed of Hashem.

We should continue to always be able to look carefully at a situation and assess how we can be helpful where there is a need. Hashem should give us the strength to fill it, push ourselves to do more, and to influence our friends as well.

In this zechus, may all the cholim have a refuah shleima, and may we be zoche to have Mashiach so very soon.