Friday, September 6, 2019



          Noted psychologist, Dr. David Pelcovitz relates that his wife’s uncle was an American soldier in 1945 and was present when they liberated one of the Concentration Camps. When he walked into a children’s barrack, he was stunned by the sight of the frightened, emaciated children. He wanted to give them something, but he had nothing to offer them. Without thinking twice, he reached out towards a young child and hugged him. Instantly, a line of children formed, all waiting for a hug.

          The Pele Yoetz[1] writes that he doesn’t understand why people will so freely spend substantial amounts of money to purchase pesicha[2] or to be a sandek at a b’ris, which are beautiful customs, but won’t invest in performing acts of chesed which is a mitzvah recorded in the Torah.
          He notes that every small act one does on behalf of another is considered chesed, and thereby a fulfillment of a Torah commandment. This includes holding the door for another person, changing money for someone, or handing something to another that he needed.
          In the ethical letter he wrote to his family, the Vilna Gaon quotes a medrash which states that after a person leaves this world and faces the heavenly courts, they ask him “Did you make your friend king over you with pleasantness?”

          In parshas Shoftim, the Torah details what happens when a Jew is found murdered outside the confines of a city. The city closest to the corpse must assume responsibility to perform the eglah arufah (decapitated calf) ritual, to ascertain atonement the tragedy that occurred.
          During the procedure, the elders of the city declare, “Our hands have not spilled this blood.”[3] The gemara asks how it is possible for there even to be a thought that the elders of the city are responsible for such a heinous crime? The gemara explains that they must declare that they were not responsible for allowing the victim to leave town unescorted and without provisions.[4]
          It can be inferred from the gemara’s answer that if the victim had been accompanied and supplied with provisions, he would not have been killed.
          Maharal asks that although there is an obligation of “levaya” to accompany a guest out of the city, there is no obligation to accompany him all the way to the next city? There is also no obligation to arm the guest with weapons when he departs the city. How would accompanying him have helped protect him?
          Maharal[5] explains that when Jews show solidarity towards one another, in this case by accompanying the guest a short distance and providing him with provisions, Hashem protects the guest for the duration of his journey. Therefore, if the elders did not demonstrate that solidarity, Hashem will not offer His protection.
          Rabbi Yochanan Zweig offered an additional practical explanation: A visitor to a city or someone lost is generally more susceptible to being mugged or robbed, than a resident of that city. There is a certain profile which a mugger searches for, someone vulnerable and unprotected. One who is unfamiliar with his surroundings projects his lack of confidence in the manner in which he carries himself. He is therefore more prone to being attacked.
          When the elders accompany a guest for even a short distance, it conveys to him a sense of respect and dignity for him. That itself infuses him with a sense of connection and confidence. Such a person is less likely to be attacked or taken advantage of.
          On the other hand, if one is not afforded that dignity when he leaves a city, he can feel lonely and disconnected. That can easily unwittingly be expressed by a gait that projects his lack of confidence, resulting in a greater propensity for a crime to be perpetrated against him. 

          Someone once wrote a letter to the Steipler Gaon[6] about an individual who was extremely depressed. It was so severe that the man was contemplating ending his life, and therefore it was unclear if he was of sufficient sound mind to divorce his wife.
          The Steipler replied that if a scholar falls into depression it is likely the result of his feeling a lack of dignity and self-worth.[7] Therefore, the man should be given opportunities to teach Torah or to write a Sefer containing his Torah thoughts that he can disseminate. Doing so would give him the boost of morale and dignity that he needed to reclaim his equilibrium. The Steipler suggested that the wife give her husband a year to see if those changes would have a positive effect upon her melancholic husband.
          Performing chesed is not limited to giving money or even doing acts of kindness. Sometimes a kind word or a listening ear can make a tremendous difference to another person. In an extreme case, such as that of the eglah arufah, it can be a matter of life and death.

          Avos d’rabbi Nosson[8] relates that on one occasion, Rabbi Yochanan was leaving Yerushalayim and Rabbi Yehoshua was walking behind him. As they walked, Rabbi Yehoshua glanced up at the fresh smoldering ruins of the Bais Hamikdash, and cried out, “Woe is to us, the place where the sins of the Jewish people were atoned has been destroyed.” Rabbi Yochanan replied to Rabbi Yehoshua, “My son, do not be troubled. We have a source of atonement like it, and that is the performance of good deeds.”
          Doing chesed isn’t only life changing and perhaps lifesaving, but when one performs acts of chesed he can achieve the level of atonement that could have been attained with the avoda in the Bais Hamikdash itself.

          "Our hands have not spilled this blood."
          “Did you make your friend king over you with pleasantness?”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] “chesed”
[2] Opening the Aron kodesh
[3] Devorim 21:7
[4] Sotah 45b
[5] Chiddushei Agados
[6] K’rayana D’igrisa volume 1, letter 280
[7] The Steipler adds that the person himself may be unaware that this is his core issue.
[8] 4:5


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