BEREISHIS (Genesis, 1:1-6:8) — “Kindness, Torah Style”

The Torah, with its hundreds of Commandments, is about nothing if it’s not about kindness.  In fact, Rabbi Simlai tells us in the Talmud (Sotah, 14a) that the Torah begins and ends with acts of kindness.  G-d made clothes for Adam and Eve, (Genesis 3.21), and He buried Moses. (Deuteronomy 34.6)  Rabbi Simlai’s point is that in view of the fact that this great Book of Laws opens and closes with statements about G-d’s charitable acts of kindness toward His children, it follows that this is a major factor in a Torah lifestyle.

Some commentaries question Rabbi Simlai’s choice of events to bring home his point.  To be sure, the burial of Moses, in the seventh-to-last verse of the Torah, comes at the virtual end of the Book.  But if he wanted to illustrate that the Torah BEGINS with kindness, he didn’t have to select G-d’s gift of clothing to Adam and Eve.  After all, that event didn’t occur until Chapter 3 of Genesis, after Adam and Eve had already been expelled from the Garden of Eden.  How about, for example, “­G-d planted a garden in Eden, to the east, and placed there the man whom He had created”?   (Genesis 2:8)

Is it not an act of kindness to provide Adam and Eve with a garden full of delicious foods that allows them to survive?  If Rabbi Simlai wanted to show that the Torah begins with kindness, why did he pick an example in the third chapter of Genesis?  What’s wrong with this example from Chapter 2?

Rabbi Yehudah Ginsberg of Denver (Yalkut Yehudah, page 63) suggests that Chapter 3 illustrates the point much better than Chapter 2 does.  Was it really such a charitable act for G-d to feed Adam and Eve?  After all, He created them!  Doesn’t a parent feed and clothe and educate his child, and help him to become self-sufficient?

It was, in a sense, in G-d’s “best interest” to take care of Adam and Eve.  He expected great things of them.  They were going to fill the world with human beings, all united in the service of G-d.  Of course He would provide for them!

That, however, was BEFORE they sinned.  When Adam and Eve violated G-d’s Commandment, and ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, they forfeited their right to live.  In fact, the Talmud says that the angels now viewed the human race as a failed experiment, and advised G-d to destroy them.

Against this backdrop, G-d, in His infinite kindness and compassion, made clothes for Adam and Eve.  They had sinned against Him, and deserved nothing.  Moses, as well, died in the wilderness because he had sinned against G-d.  Yet, G-d Himself buried him.

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This is what Rabbi Simlai means about kindness.  Anyone can be nice to a person when he likes or needs that person.  If I do you a favor because I expect a favor in return, how much of a favor am I doing?  (The Torah refers to attending to a person’s funeral needs as a “Kindness of Truth,” a truly selfless act because I know that the recipient of my kindness will never do the same for me!)

This doesn’t mean we should “turn the other cheek” and allow ourselves to be stepped on.  Nor does it mean that we should use a lack of totally pure intentions as an excuse NOT to be kind.  (“The only reason I would consider giving a million dollars to the Yeshivah is that they’ll put my name on the front of the building.  I better not give them any money!”)  In most cases, it is better to do a Mitzvah for the wrong reason than not to do it at all.

What it does mean, however, that the true definition of kindness is when I do something for another person for purely selfless motives.  G-d was not “helping Himself” by clothing Adam and Eve or burying Moses.  He was helping people who needed help.

All too often, the human concept of kindness is “what’s in it for me?”  The Torah’s view of concept is “what’s in it for YOU?”

That is the Torah’s definition of kindness.  That is the beginning of Torah, and that is the end of Torah.  The rest of the Torah, as the great Sage Hillel said, is simply commentary.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives

“Let the SON Shine” (2016)

A baby boy is born.

His proud and hopeful parents bring him to the synagogue on the eighth day of his life, whereupon he is surgically and spiritually ushered into the Covenant of Abraham.

A prayer is recited “…May this little one become great. Just as he as entered the Covenant, so too may he enter into the Torah, the Chuppah (marriage canopy) and good deeds.” 

Big plans for this little guy. “May this little one (Kattan in Hebrew) become great (Gadol in Hebrew, literally big).”

A prayer that the Kattan will become Gadol, the little one will grow to become big.  We look forward to seeing this little 6-pounder turn into a strapping 6-footer.

Being a Mohel, I get to eat a lot of bagels & lox, and hear a lot of speeches.  I heard a beautiful explanation of this prayer …

Read more.

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“How Many G-Ds Does It Take To Make A World?” (2009)

Moses was not happy.  There he was, taking dictation from the Author of the Torah, writing each word per G-d’s instructions.  They were up to Genesis, 1:21.  G-d told him to write, ” . . . and G-d said, let Us make man in Our image . . .”

.. OUR image . . . ???

Moses was troubled by G-d referring to Himself in plural.  A major tenet of the Jewish faith is that there is only one G-d, who has no partners.  “Master of the World!  You are giving an opening to heretics!”…

Read more.

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“Be a World Builder” (2008)

…G-d wanted Israel to be His partner in Creation.  But how could this be done?  G-d brought forth all His miraculous powers of creation in bringing the world into being.  What did we do?  Nothing! …

Read more.

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“Kindness, Torah-Style” (2006)

…  Was it really such a charitable act for G-d to feed Adam and Eve?  After all, He created them!  Doesn’t a parent feed and clothe and educate his child, and help him to become self-sufficient?

It was, in a sense, in G-d’s “best interest” to take care of Adam and Eve…

Read more.

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 “The Right Tools” (2005)

It is axiomatic that the right tools make the job much easier to do.  Did you ever try to use a flat screwdriver on a Philips-head screw because you didn’t have what you needed?   It just doesn’t work right.

Before you start a job, it is very important to get what you need.  Yes, you can improvise, and sometimes it will come out ok.  However, the extra time you take to make a quick trip to the hardware store will yield worthwhile dividends…

Go out there and conquer the world.  Negotiate that contract!  Build that better mousetrap!  Heal that patient!  Hit that grand slam home run!

But before you do, make sure you are prepared.  Do your homework.  Sterilize your surgical instruments.  Go to spring training.

One more thing …

Read more.

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“The Loch Ness Succah” (2003)

… A nice, upbeat prayer — a request that in the coming year, G-d will finally send the Messiah, ushering in a utopian era of world peace and mutual understanding.  A time when, as Isaiah says, swords will be made into plowshares, and war will be a defunct concept found only in history books.

But what if the Messiah doesn’t come?  What if next year isn’t perfect?  Would it not be appropriate to add a caveat to the above prayer?  How about something like, “Okay, G-d, I hope you send the Messiah.  But, if You decide not to, may it be Your will that my family all be together in good health to celebrate Sukkos together.”

Might it not make sense to have a “back-up plan”?  Why should we go for broke? …

Read more.

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“The Evolutionary War” (2002) 

Who’s right, scientists or the Torah?  On Rosh Hashanah, we began the year 5763. How can we believe that the world is less than six thousand years old when the scientific evidence indicates that it is BILLIONS of years old?

What about fossils?  What about carbon dating?  Can we, as intelligent people, really believe the Adam & Eve story?  What about dinosaurs?  What about all of the evidence of various life forms, leading to the advanced stage of development at which we now stand?  How can we believe in the Garden of Eden instead of Jurassic Park? …

Read more.

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“Cry ‘Uncle'” (2001)

… What could have caused such strife, such animosity that would lead Cain to destroy one seventh of the human race? …

Read more.

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 “‘Big Mac’ Strikes Out In the Garden of Eden” (2000)

… My son showed me an article last week (Total Baseball Weekly — October 18-24, 2000 — no link available) about some baseball fans that approached home run superstar Mark McGuire and asked him for his autograph.  Big Mac “graciously” offered to give his autograph to whomever would be kind enough to go to Starbucks and fetch him a cup of coffee.

…  Without his fans footing the bill, he would have to go out and get a real job and buy his own coffee.  Here is a man who has a lot to learn about appreciation.

Too bad.  He should have read this week’s Torah Portion …

Read more.

This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2016 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on October 19, 2006 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

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