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A World of Kindness

Aside from the obvious quality of our great ancestors as figures we look up to and learn from, our sages teach that specific individuals came to embody certain essential attributes. Even before mysticism, our sages associate Avraham with the virtue of kindness, so much so that he came to be recognized as the avatar, conduit, embodiment, and manifestation of God’s kindness in the world.

That God’s kindness is everywhere is arguably one of Judaism’s first principles. When God explains his attributes to Moshe, only one of them is “abundant,” kindness – וְרַב־חֶסֶד. The first blessing of the Amida praises kindness as God’s predominant form of interaction with the universe – גּוֹמֵל חֲסָדִים טוֹבִים וְקוֹנֵה הַכֹּל. It follows that Judaism’s first ancestor is the archetype of kindness, and the first blessing is named for him – מגן אברהם.

In mysticism, there is a paradox at the heart of our basic reality called the bread of shame – נהמא דכיסופא. It would be a degrading handout for souls to remain in Heaven, basking in the ethereal light for eternity. Our souls are placed into bodies so we can earn our piece of Heaven, and it’s no longer a handout. But the thing is, the notion of earning anything at all is an illusion – the system itself is a gift, the most significant gift of all – עולם חסד יבנה.

As the Mesilas Yesharim teaches, God’s entire purpose in Creation was to have a counterpart with whom to share the gift of God’s goodness. R’ Yerucham Levovitz asks us to recognize the kindness in every moment, from the air we breathe to the grocery store selling oranges – the fact it is a for-profit transaction does not change that the store objectively performs a kind deed by giving you something you want.

Avraham understood that we live in a world of kindness, but the people of Canaan did not share those values, so he sent his steward, Eliezer, to his ancestral homeland to find a suitable match for Yitzchak, his son, and heir. When Eliezer arrives, he prays for God’s kindness to grace his mission:

וַיֹּאמַר  ה’ אֱלֹקי אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָם הַקְרֵה־נָא לְפָנַי הַיּוֹם וַעֲשֵׂה־חֶסֶד עִם אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָם – And he said, “Lord, God of my master Avraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal kindly with my master Avraham.” (24:12)

The Midrash highlights how people from the school of Avraham, the master of kindness, still look to God for further kindness. God’s kindness is essential; our sages say we’d fail at everything without God’s help.

The Beis Yisrael notes how in praying for kindness, Eliezer channeled his teacher and master by checking his ego. Feeling arrogant, confident, or self-righteous about such a sacred mission would be easy. It would be natural! He was sent by Avraham, one of the greatest humans to ever live, to find a suitable match – holy work – for Yitzchak, another one of our giants, to manifest the future greatness of Israel, bearers of the Torah, objectives of all Creation. Each element alone would be enough to get carried away, and rightly so!

But the way of Avraham is not to get ahead of yourself, holding onto groundedness and humility come what may – וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר.

The Chiddushei Harim says that Avraham was a good teacher; Eliezer didn’t harp on his master’s merits and accomplishments and didn’t approach God with a sense of claim or entitlement. Indeed, one of the most shocking discoveries along your spiritual journey might be the realization that you don’t have a claim on the Creator; you’ve already been the recipient of abundant kindness any way you look.

But fortunately, God’s kindness is readily available, and God’s preferred mode of interaction with our universe, however masked it may be – חֶסֶד ה’ מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ.

Avraham doesn’t just teach us the virtue of bestowing kindness on others; Avraham teaches the virtue of receiving kindness and recognizing the Creator as the Source of it all.

You are a grateful person, hopefully, thankful for your health, your family, and the things that get you by. You have been blessed!

But this story contains another lesson – even the spiritual world of Torah and mitzvos is a gift we must appreciate and continue to ask for, no matter how far we have already come.