|Posted on May 18, 2010 at 12:14 AM|
By Gary Konecky
We are put on this earth for a very short time. As we are placed on this earth, we are given a soul. In effect, we are put here with a mission to accomplish. Why are we here? What is our mission? What is it God wants from us? What is the purpose of or meaning of life?
To answer these questions, I am going to turn to one of the prophets. We are told in Micah 6:8: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love loving mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
While this is a good general answer, we are stuck with the question of how does one do justice, love loving mercy and walk humbly with God? This is not an original question. Many years ago, the very same question was asked in the Talmud. Therefore, we will examine that passage from the Talmud (Sukkah 49b):
What is the implication of the text, It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the Lord doth require of thee: Only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (30) ‘To do justly’ means [to act in accordance with] justice; ‘to love mercy’ refers to acts of loving kindness’ (31) ‘and to walk (32) humbly with thy God’ refers to attending to funerals and dowering a bride for her wedding. (33) Now can we not make a deduction a fortiori: If in matters which are normally performed publicly (34) the Torah enjoins ‘to walk humbly’, how much more so in matters that are normally done privately? (35)
(30) Mic. VI, 8.
(31) Gemiluth Hasadim (v. infra). It is wider than charity including as it does all acts of kindness.
(32) Emphasis on ‘walk’.
(33) One's help in such cases should be given humbly and in privacy.
(34) Weddings and funerals.
(35) The giving of alms.
With the above passage, we have our first insights into what Micah instructed us.
Let’s now explore what walking humbly with God means. To do this, we will look again to the Talmud (Sotah 14a):
R. Hama son of R. Hanina further said: What means the text: Ye shall walk after the Lord your God? (4) Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after the Shechinah; for has it not been said: For the Lord thy God is a devouring fire? (5) But [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. As He clothes the naked, for it is written: And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife coats of skin, and clothed them, (6) so do thou also clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, for it is written: And the Lord appeared unto him by the oaks of Mamre, (7) so do thou also visit the sick. The Holy One, blessed be He, comforted mourners, for it is written: And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son, (8) so do thou also comfort mourners. The Holy one, blessed be He, buried the dead, for it is written: And He buried him in the valley, (9) so do thou also bury the dead.
4) Deut. XIII, 5.
Shechinah – The Divine Presence
(5) Ibid. IV, 24.
(6) Gen. III, 21.
(7) Ibid. XVIII, 1. Since the preceding verses deal with Abraham's circumcision, it is deduced that the occasion was when he was recovering.
(8) Gen. XXV, 11.
(9) Deut. XXXIV, 6.
With the above guidance in mind,we will now explore the significance of charity, a component of the requirement of loving mercy. We are taught in Exodus Rabbah 31:14: If all the sufferings and pain in the world were gathered (on one side of the scale) and poverty was on the other side, poverty would out weigh them all.
Now you maybe thinking the problem of poverty is so vast and my resources are so limited, what can I do? The answer to this lies in Wayyikra Rabbah 34, where we are told:
R.Phinehas in the name of R. Reuben said: ‘If a man gives a perutah (a penny) to a poor man, will G-d repay him in perutahs?’ ‘Nay, he gave not a perutah to a destitute man, but he verily gave him life. Suppose a loaf of bread sells for ten perutahs, and the poor man has only nine, does not this enable him to buy life-preserving food by his gift of a perutah? G-d saith to the giver: ‘Thou hast saved the life of the poor man; when the time comes for your life to end, I will give it back to you.’
From this we learn that even a modest donation can make a difference, enough of a difference to keep someone from starving. But, as great as the reward cited above (…when the time comes for your life to end, I will give it back to you) makes charity sound, the importance of charity is even greater. For we are told in the Talmud (Sukkah 49b):
R. Eleazar stated, Greater is he who performs charity than [he who offers] all the sacrifices, for it is said, To do charity (36) and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. (37)
(36) Zedakah. E.V. ‘righteousness’.
(37) Prov. XXI, 3.
The Talmud teaches us in this passage not only how great charity is, but that the Hebrew word for charity, zedakah, actually means righteousness, for charity is not a discretionary act, but it is an act of righteousness, an act we are required to do.
Charity is such an important act, we are further taught in the Talmud (Baba Bathra 9a):
R. Assi further said: Charity is equivalent to all the other religious precepts combined; as it says, 'Also we made ordinances': it is not written, 'an ordinance', but 'ordinances'
The Talmud (Shabbath156b) also tells us the Talmudic sage Samuel went out and lectured: But charity (10) delivereth from death; (11) and [this does not mean] from an unnatural death, but from death itself.
(10) E.v. righteousness. From the Jewish point of view the two are identical: One merely performs his duty (i.e.,righteousness) in giving charity.
(11) Prov. X, 2.
Does this mean that charity is the same as loving mercy? The answer is no. For loving mercy goes beyond charity. The Talmud (Sukkah 49b) teaches us:
Our Rabbis taught, In three respects is Gemiluth Hasadim superior to charity: charity can be done only with one's money, but Gemiluth Hasadim can be done with one's person and one's money. Charity can be given only to the poor, Gemiluth Hasadim both to the rich and the poor. Charity can be given to the living only, Gemiluth Hasadim can be done both to the living and to the dead. (41)
Gemiluth Hasadim - Translated as ‘the practice of kindness’
(41) By attending to their funeral and burial.
Think of the power of a kind word, a smile, a pleasant greeting, and sincere words of encouragement. All of these fall under acts of loving mercy. Visiting the sick is also an act of loving mercy.
Earlier, we were taught, “The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, …so do thou also visit the sick.” This teaching is discussed in the Talmud (Nedarim 39b), where we are taught that someone visiting a sick person removes 1/60 (.01667) of the illness or pain. Least you think that if 60 people visit, the patient will be cured, the second person to visit can only remove 1/60 of the remaining illness (1/60 x 59/60 or .01639). The third person can only remove 1/60 of the remaining illness
(1/60 x 58/60 or .01611).
Not merely does visiting the sick, make the ill person feel better, but the person’s medical care will be better. We know if the medical staff is aware that someone will be watching the quality of care they provide, they will provide better care. For we were taught in the Talmud (Nedarim 39b):
R. Helbo fell ill. Thereupon R. Kahana went and proclaimed: R. Helbo is sick. But none visited him. He rebuked them [sc. the scholars], saying, Did it not once happen that one of R. Akiba's disciples fell sick, and the Sages did not visit him? So R. Akiba himself entered [his house] to visit him, and because they swept and sprinkled the ground before him (1), he recovered. 'My master,' said he, 'you have revived me!' [Straightway] R. Akiba went forth and lectured: He who does not visit the sick is like a shedder of blood.
(1) Asheri: R.Akiba, finding the chamber neglected, gave the necessary orders.
Not only should we visit the sick, our visit should inspire us to pray for the recovery of the sick person. For the Talmud (Nedarim 40a) teaches us:
When R. Dimi came, (2) he said: He who visits the sick causes him to live, whilst he who does not causes him to die. How does he cause [this]? Shall we say that he who visits the sick prays (3) that he may live, whilst he who does not prays that he should die, - ‘that he should die!’ can you really think so? But [say thus:] He who does not visit the sick prays neither that he may live nor die. (4)
(2) From Palestine.
(3) Lit., ‘begs mercy for him’.
(4) Through the lack of his prayers, which might have been accepted, he is said to cause his death.
The time of day when one visits a sick person also matters. For the Talmud (Nedarim 40a) also teaches us:
R. Shisha son of R. Idi said: One should not visit the sick during the first three or the last three hours [of the day], lest he thereby omit to pray (14) for him. During the first three hours of the day his [the invalid's] illness is alleviated; in the last three hours his sickness is most virulent. (15)
(14) Lit.,‘dismiss’ his mind from mercies.
(15) Consequently, a visitor in the first three hours may think him on the road to recovery, and consider prayer unnecessary; in the last three hours, on the other hand, he may feel that prayer is hopeless.
In conclusion, I come to the words of the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5):
Only one man was created, in order to teach the lesson that if one destroys a single person, the Scripture imputes it to him as if he had destroyed the whole population of the world. And if he saves the life of a single person, the scripture imputes it to him as though he had saved the entire world.
May we all go forth to do justice, and to love loving mercy, and to walk humbly with your God for to save a life is to save an entire world.
Adapted from a presentation made to the Jewish Learning Experience in Teaneck, NJ on Shavu'ot 5770.
The Soncino Talmud, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8, Copyright 1991-2004.
The Soncino Midrash Rabbah, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8, Copyright 1991-2004.
English Translation of Tanach © D. Mandel, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8, Copyright1991-2004.
The Talmudic Anthology, Tales& Teachings of the Rabbis, Edited by Louis I. Newman in collaboration with Samuel Spitz, Behrman House, Inc., copyright 1945
Recommended additional reading:
The Book of Jewish Values, a Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living, By Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Bell Tower, copyright 2000