The Importance of Kindness (Parasha Chaye Sarah)


Our Torah reading for this week opens on a sad note. We are told that at age 127, Sarah has died. As you remember, Abraham and Sarah are the first Jewish people. At G0d’s command they leave their home in Aram Naharaim and travel to the Land of Canaan. There, G-d promises to give Abraham and Sarah’s descendants this land, the land we now call Israel. But there is a problem. Abraham and Sarah are very old, they have no children, and therefore will have no descendants. But, as you recall, they have a child in their old age and name him Isaac. Now Isaac is grown and must marry. Abraham turns his attention to finding a wife for Isaac so that Isaac can have children and continue the line of  Jewish people. 

Abraham does not leave it up to Isaac to date! He takes it upon himself to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. What better place to find a wife than in the Old Country, the place where Abraham and Sarah were born. So Abraham sends his servant back to Aram Naharaim, to  look for a wife for Isaac. 

But how would Abraham’s servant know when he found the right woman to be Isaac’s wife? What qualities would a good wife for Isaac,  a future mother of Abraham and Sarah’s grandchildren have? 

Would it be the most beautiful woman in Aram Naharaim? No, because what matters more is what is inside and not how the person looks on the outside. 

Would it be the most intelligent woman in Aram Naharaim? Intelligence is important, but intelligence alone would not make this woman a suitable wife for Isaac. Intelligence can be misused to do  evil things  as well as to do  good things.

What about a rich woman? 

The most popular woman?

The most athletic woman?

The most famous? 

The servant of Abraham sets out to travel to Aram Naharaim with a caravan of 10 camels. He arrives at the city at the time when the young women are coming to the well in the city square to draw out water for their families. He has an idea about what he wants to look for to choose a wife for Isaac. The servant prays to G-d. 

Dear G0d,

“Here I stand at a well in the city square at the time when the young women of the city are coming out to get water for their families. I will ask each woman who comes out for a drink of water. If one of them says “Drink, and I will also give water to your camels” I will know that this is the woman who is a suitable wife for Isaac.”

No sooner did the servant finish his prayer that Rivkah approached the well with her jug to draw water. The servant asked her for a drink. She said, “Drink, and I will also give water to your camels”. When she said that, Abraham’s servant knew that his prayers were answered and he had found a wife for Isaac. 

What quality did Rivkah express that led the servant to know that she was the right  choice  for Isaac? Kindness. Kindness to both the servant and to the servant’s animals! We have a special word for this in Hebrew. “Chesed”. It is used to describe G-d’s love for the Jewish people and our love for one another and for all the people of our world. Chesed means more than “kindness”. Chesed means generosity, giving of yourself fully, with love and compassion. Many believe that “Chesed”, loving kindness, is a core Jewish value. 

There is a rabbinic teaching that the world is sustained by three things:

Study of Torah

Worship of G-d

Chesed — Kindness

Furthermore our rabbis teach that acts of Chesed, of kindness, are superior to acts of Tsedakah, or charity, in three ways:

Tsedaka can be given only with money. Acts of Chesed can be accomplished with personal involvement as well as with money.

Tsedaka can be given only to the  needy. Acts of Chesed can be done with the rich, the  needy and those in between.

Charity can be given only to the living. Acts of Chesed can be done for both the living and the dead. The burial of the dead has its own term. It is a mitzvah of “Chesed shel emet”, which means an act of pure kindness, because the dead person will never be able to act toward you with Chesed in return. 

The medieval Biblical commentator Rashi teaches us that there is a connection between Tsedakah and Chesed. Tzedakah, he says, is the act of giving charity to the other. Chesed is the concern that you show the recipient of that charity. It is the “kindness” with which you give. Chesed is the ability to see the true needs of others and respond  with compassion,with respect, with kindness and with understanding.


There is a danger in extending “tsedaka” to others without chesed. Take the case of a young man in Florida who wanted to help poor people in Africa. He decided to ask people to donate their extra  t-shirts which he would send to a certain poor country in Africa. After all, he reasoned, poor people needed clothing! He was wildly successful and sent a huge number of T-shirts to Africa. But he sent them to a place that did not need the T-shirts and his donation undermined the demand for locally produced clothing, thereby endangering the local economy!  The international aid community prevailed upon him to stop his donations, and he did. This is a good example of Tsedakah without Chesed, of providing charity yet not realizing or considering if his act of Tsedaka would in fact affect others adversely. This is why these two mitzvot go hand in hand.  

Our sages teach that the Torah begins with an act of Chesed and ends with an act of Chesed. It begins with an act of Chesed when G-d makes clothing for Adam and Eve. It ends with an act of Chesed when G-d buries Moses. Between the beginning and the end of the Torah the word “chesed” is used more than 190 times. Just as the Torah begins with an act of chesed and ends with an act of chesed, so may we begin each day and end each day with acts of Chesed and find opportunities for Chesed throughout our day.

Shabbat Shalom

Photo by Yeo Khee on Unsplash