In this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah prohibits a Moabite and an Ammonite to marry into the Jewish people. The reason the Torah gives for this is because these nations failed to greet the Jews in the desert with bread and water, when the Jews were passing by their country, on their way from Egypt to the Holy Land. The Medrash (Vayikra Rabboh 34:8) derives from here a tremendous lesson in chessed (kindliness). In truth, it was not necessary to bring the Jews food and drink. The Jews lacked nothing as they traveled through the desert. They were sustained by the manna which fell from the sky every day, and they had a well which traveled along with them. Taking it all into account, nevertheless, it is still proper to greet travelers and offer them nourishment. If this is the consequence for someone who fails to do chessed with someone who is not truly in need, how much more so can we imagine the severity of failing to do chessed with one who does need help.
We may add to the conclusion the Medrash reaches, if God holds it against these gentile nations for failing to do chessed, to such a degree, how much more so, we Jews, who are commanded by the Torah to do chessed, are responsible to reach out to anyone in need who we can help.
Rabbi Grossman, director of multiple institutions for underprivileged children, was in need of funding to expand one of his schools. He had a friend, Rabbi Rosner, with whom he worked together on various projects for the public. Rabbi Rosner had connections in the Israeli government, and succeeded in securing a meeting for Rabbi Grossman with a top-level official from the Ministry of Education. On his way to the meeting, Rabbi Grossman passed a distressed woman who asked to speak to him. He stopped to hear her story even though he really needed to go to the meeting. She related that she was a widow with two daughters and was having difficulty with them and looking for help. She had just applied at an institution for children from difficult backgrounds, but they turned her away. She beseeched Rabbi Grossman to help her out. Without delay, despite the crucial meeting he had to attend precisely at that time, he told the woman that they would go to the school and he would help her. Rabbi Grossman worked hard to persuade the administration to accept the girls until the administration obliged. Meanwhile, Rabbi Rosner was sitting with the government official waiting impatiently for Rabbi Grossman. This was before the days of cell phones and there was no way to reach him. Finally, Rabbi Grossman used the school’s phone to call the hotel where the meeting was to take place, to tell his friend what had occurred. Rabbi Rosner explained the situation to the official and proceeded with the meeting without Rabbi Grossman’s attendance. It was not easy for Rabbi Grossman to give up his presence at this crucial meeting. But Rabbi Grossman understood well, that when someone is in need, it is his duty to do whatever he can to help that person. In the end, the school was awarded a generous budget from the government for the additional classrooms, better than expected.
This is a tremendous lesson in chessed. By nature, we are inclined to feel that we don’t owe anyone any favors without justification, and we see an opportunity to perform an act of kindness as merely a chance to exercise our good will, should we feel inclined to do so. But it is not so. Chessed is an obligation. When we are confronted with someone in need, it’s not a matter of electing to earn extra credit by extending ourselves to help out. We don’t have the right to choose to ignore the needs of someone else. When we are presented with an opportunity to perform an act of kindness, we must realize that God expects us to seize the opportunity and do our part in reaching out a helping hand whenever possible.
email@example.com by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber