“If you want to understand the essence of what creation is about, it is summed up in three words: olam chesed yibaneh, the world is built upon loving-kindness,” said Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf, an award-winning author and teacher for Yeshiva for the Nations.
Speaking ahead of World Kindness Day – which is being observed internationally on November 13 and encourages individuals to show kindness to one another without regard to differences in age, gender, nationality, race and religion – he said we can learn a lot about kindness from the Bible’s main characters: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
According to Rabbi Dov Lipman, Abraham, “the first Jew,” is associated with kindness.
“Through Biblical stories about Abraham hosting people in his home and taking care of others – even the people of Sodom – we better understand the qualities of an ideal person and leader,” he told Breaking Israel News.
Similarly, explained Apisdorf, as part of Abraham’s descendants, the Jewish nation’s mission, destiny and place in the world can never be understood as separate from the rest of humanity.
“Abraham, as the wellspring where that blessing comes from, is associated with the trait of chesed, unlimited kindness and giving,” he said. “The Jewish people, part of Abraham’s progeny, are meant to be as source for blessing of mankind.”
Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah, adds another dimension to our knowledge about how to spread kindness in the world.
“Isaac, who represents gvura (the essence of judgment and limitation) puts boundaries and brakes on unbridled kindness – there is such a thing as too much kindness,” Apisdorf said.
Finally Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebecca, represents tiferet, beauty, the harmonious blending of chesed and gevurah.
“Perfect harmony means giving and knowing when to open or close one’s hand. Such harmony, which comes from maturity and perspective, is found in Jacob, leading his descendants to become the Jewish people,” said Apisdorf.
The Jewish approach on kindness – illustrated by our forefathers – is that the most harmonious kindness is giving but bridled. The best way to be kind to others, explained Apisdorf, is sometimes knowing when to stand back and give others space to figure out how to help themselves – which may sound callous and unkind, but in the context of a whole type of kindness, we must think about how not to undermine the best interests of others.”
With these perspectives in mind Apisdorf suggested, “World Kindness Day is not just about doing something kind, it’s about learning from other perspectives of kindness.”
There are countless other accounts of Biblical figures showing kindness, said Lipman, including when God saw Moses, the leader of the Jewish people, show concern even for just one sheep as a shepherd.
“The Bible also tells stories of King David’s kindness towards his people,” he said. “Kindness is viewed as so primary to the Jewish faith that we are taught derech eretz kadma l’Torah, meaning that kind behavior should precede even the Torah.”
Additionally, Pirkei Avot, a compilation of ethical teachings passed down from to the Rabbis from Moses, similarly states that the entire world is built on three pillars, one of which is gemilut chasadim, loving kindness, posed Lipman.
“Kindness is the material of creation, woven from chesed (loving kindness),” said Apisdorf. “Our role and place as human beings in this world is to finish God’s unfinished masterpiece by contributing to the weaving of the tapestry of creation, its fibers being kindness. He’s left it in our hands to finish weaving the final contours of the masterpiece and to use the very same materials which he used – that is exactly what World Kindness Day requires of us.”
In this way, Apisdorf said, kindness “should come before all else, but not independent of all else – that is what we learn from the Jewish perspective of kindness.”
In the context of today’s world in which Apisdorf believes is trending away from kindness, Apisdorf posed, “right now we need to overcompensate and we need more chesed to balance.”
Lipman similarly suggested that on World Kindness Day, we open our hands.
“When we are born, we are born selfish, with closed fists,” he said. “But we learn throughout life to open our hands in kindness. In the Jewish tradition, when we die, that is how we are buried. We have learned – and this is the goal – to become selfless and giving like God, the ultimate giver.”