This week we begin a new cycle of Torah study. After considerable and prayerful thought, I’ve chosen a theme for this year based on the words of the famed Sage, Rabbi Hillel: “What you would dislike for someone to do to you, do not do unto others. This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study.” (Shabbos 31a)
In the first chapter of Bresheit, in verse 27, we read: “And God created man in His own image; in the image of God, He created him.”
Our universe is vast, immense beyond our imagination, extending for billions of light years. Each of us is one of several billion inhabitants on a planet which is but a speck of matter in the cosmos. Humbling, to say the least.
BUT…when we realize that of all of creation, ONLY man was created in the image and likeness of the Creator, each individual is no longer insignificant or inconsequential but is a being without parallel in the entire universe. That is who you TRULY are…that is who your neighbor TRULY is.
Though seemingly miniscule, the human being is the pinnacle of God’s creation.
“In His own image, He created him…” What does this mean but that man has the ability to emulate God Who bestows kindness (chesed) upon mankind, upon the deserving and the undeserving alike! In fact, the very survival of the human species is dependent on God’s kindness, on divine chesed. It is our singular privilege to emulate God and learn to become individuals who love kindness and actively look for opportunities to practice it. When you and I act kindly towards someone else, we are reflecting the nature and goodness of God. To say, ‘Why should I care about others? Why should I help them’? is to deny the very purpose for which we were created and put on this earth.
Consider the words of the prophet Micah, “He has told you, o man, what is good and what does God require of you – to act justly, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” 6:8
To love kindness is to look for opportunities to be helpful, to smile, to be gentle, to be gracious towards others. It means that we do not wait to help until we are asked and have no acceptable way out of it! Rather, we live ‘on the alert’ to recognize the many opportunities that come our way to show kindness in one way or another.
Even the smallest act of kindness is a mitzvah; for example, if someone is sleeping, move quietly so as not to disturb them. Don’t thoughtlessly slam the door! It takes just a little attention to be aware of those around you so you can choose to act in ways that show them respect and thoughtfulness.
When the girl at the checkout looks tired, grumpy or depressed, smile and wish her a a good day. It’s amazing what a genuine smile can do for someone else, have you noticed?
Ber. 2:7 “…and man became a living soul…” In Hebrew a “nefesh chaya” which literally means ‘a soul that can speak’. It is the ability to speak that elevates us above the animals; however, this is true only when speech is used for righteous and worthy purposes. We learn this from the fact that it is apparent in the creation narrative that the snake lost his power of speech after seducing Adam and Eve to sin. The Sages derive therefore that someone who misuses the power of speech is considered lower than a beast. Have you ever heard someone say, “he’s just a snake…”?
In Tune with Torah this week: early in this new year of 5773, I’d like to propose that we choose SHOWING KINDNESS as a theme for this year and that our kindness be expressed in actions, but also in our words.