By Sandra Charak
Kindness is so much more than charity. Acts of kindness, Chesed, come from the heart. They are spontaneous gestures of goodwill to strangers as well as friends.
Acts of kindness are done without expectation of anything in return and begins with being aware of your surroundings. Small gestures of kindness are as simple as a smile while saying please and thank you to a shop clerk or to wait staff. Everyone wants to be acknowledged and appreciated. Let someone know when she/he drops something. Use a smile to cheer someone up. Offer a positive outlook. Give someone a heartfelt compliment; it could make their day.
Rabbi Hillel, the renowned teacher living in Palestine in the first century BCE, is credited as the original source of the Golden Rule. “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn” Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 31:1. According to the Midrash, a non-Jewish man said to Hillel, “He would convert if Hillel could explain Judaism while he stands on one foot.” The man probably asked Hillel this question not expecting a meaningful answer, but Hillel responded with this insightful response, according to the Talmud.
Treating everyone with kindness in a loving way may not always be easy. One needs to acknowledge everyone’s points of view and have compassion even when exhausted, angry or feeling low. That compassion may lift your own spirits and influence others to mirror your actions.
In the Book of Ruth, read in many synagogues on Shavuot, when we celebrate receiving the 10 commandments. Rabbi Zei’ra states in the Midrash Ruth Rabbah 2.13 “This scroll [of Ruth] tells nothing either of cleanliness or of uncleanliness, neither of prohibition or permission. For what purpose then was it written? To teach how great is the reward of those who do deeds of kindness” (Midrash Ruth Rabbah 2.13). Ruth, childless and widowed gave all of herself, going from princess to humble Jewish woman, to honor and serve her Mother-in-Law.
Everyone can act with Chesed or Kindness. We need only to offer small daily acts of kindness to make a change in our home, our neighborhood and our community. Kindness can become contagious.
I believe that the antonym of Chesed or Loving Kindness is fear. When a person is afraid they are unable to open themselves up to exploration and meet new people. Fear leads to division, meanness and hatred.
In our current environment the mainstream media espouses and promotes fear and mistrust. When practicing Chesed you may find the majority of people want the same thing you do, love and kindness.