Torahs pre-eminent value is acts of loving kindness

Genesis 1:1-6:8

Isaiah 42:5-43:10

by Rabbi Pichas Lipner

As we begin this year's weekly cycle of Torah reading, it is interesting to note that the Torah begins and ends with inspiring examples of G-d, Himself, performing acts of chesed (loving kindness) in dealing with His people (Talmud Sotah 14).

Recently we read in the final Torah portion, V'zot Habrachah, that G-d personally carried Moses to his final resting place and buried him there (Deuteronomy 34:6). This is an important message to us concerning the significance of our own involvement in the proper accompaniment and burial of the deceased.

In this week's beginning portion, Genesis, we learn that G-d made leather garments for Adam and his wife (3:21). Clothing the needy is an enormous mitzvah. It is in fact one of the attributes of the Almighty for which we bless Him daily.

The Talmud points out that by beginning and ending the Torah with these acts of loving kindness, G-d demonstrates the pre-eminent value of chesed. In the Ethics of the Fathers 1:2, Shimon Hatzadik relates that the world stands on three pillars: Torah, Service of G-d and Acts of Chesed.

Genesis states that man was created in G-d's image (1:27). Our rabbis have interpreted "image" in terms of G-d's attributes. We have been created with the ability to emulate His qualities. G-d is only kind and merciful. G-d is good to all and His mercy is upon all living creatures (Tehillim 145:9).

The survival of the whole world depends upon His kindness. Whoever imitates G-d in doing acts of chesed bears the image of G-d. Whoever avoids the practice of chesed, questioning why he should be kind to his fellow man, distances himself more and more from G-d.

Chesed is inherent in every benevolent act a man does without payment. It can be performed with our money, our body and our time. It can, as we have seen be done for the dead as well as the living. Chesed derives from the specific mitzvah of "v'ahavtah lereyachah kamochah," "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). The Torah is so replete with instances of G-d's loving kindness that we cannot escape appreciation of its supremacy. The great Rabbi Hillel in fact explained to an impatient potential convert that this mitzvah is the very essence of the Torah. The rest, he explained, is commentary.

It is worth observing that G-d has Himself demonstrated for us many of the specific commandments, which fulfill our obligation of loving our neighbor as ourselves. We have been given a blueprint to help us live up to our G-dly image.

In addition to the aforementioned examples of G-d's chesed in dealing with the dead and clothing the needy, there are many more: When G-d created Eve, the Torah recounts, "And He brought her to the man" (Genesis 2:22). The Talmud Berachot comments that G-d actually served as an attendant at the wedding of Adam and Eve. This refers to the mitzvah of bringing joy to a bride and groom. When Abraham was ill following his circumcision at the age of 99, G-d visited him (Genesis 18:1). This is a wonderful example of the mitzvah of visiting the sick.

After Abraham's death, G-d blessed Isaac, his son (Genesis 25:11). Our sages say in connection with this verse that here G-d paid a condolence call to Isaac, once more a divine model for us of the mitzvah of comforting mourners (Talmud Sotah 14:1).

It is a powerful directive for all of us to contemplate the spiritual "bookends" of G-d's acts of loving kindness that enclose our Torah as well as all of those in between. There is no end to the instances of chesed in our Holy Scroll. We have been blessed with a manual to enable us to emulate our Creator, we can reach great heights if we deeply immerse ourselves in it.

Shabbat Shalom!