> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > The Guiding Light

Judaism and Kindness

January 16, 2022 | by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Shemot, 19:3: “Moshe ascended to God and Hashem called out to him from the mountain…”
Shemot Rabbah, 28:1: “At that time [when Moshe went up to receive the Torah], the Ministering Angels wanted to harm him. The Holy One, Blessed is He made his face similar to that of Avraham. The Holy One, Blessed is He said to them, ‘are you not embarrassed in front of him?’ isn’t this the one who you went down towards him, and you hate in his house?’ The Holy One, Blessed is He said to Moshe, ‘the Torah is only being given to you in the merit of Avraham.”

When Moshe went up to Heaven to receive the Torah, the Angles were not impressed and did not seem to think that he merited to receive the Torah on behalf of mankind. God made Moshe appear like Avraham and He reminded the Angles that Avraham fed them when they went down to the Earth, so they should be embarrassed in front of him. God then told Moshe that the Torah was only given in the merit of Avraham.

One question on this Midrash is why did God invoke the merit of Avraham in particular, more than Yitzchak and Yaakov – on a simple level, the answer might be that Avraham was the one who served the Angels but we know that Yaakov also had interactions with Angels. Moreover, there is surely a deeper allusion in the fact that Avraham served the Angels was so decisive in enabling Moshe to receive the Torah.

There is another Midrash which elaborates on the account of when Avraham hosted the Angels, which can help give some clues to answering these questions.1 The Midrash notes a seeming contradiction in the verses – first the Torah says that the Angels were standing over Avraham2 but later it says that Avraham was standing over them.3 The Midrash understands that these terms are not just referring to the physical reality, rather they are alluding to the Angel’s changing attitude towards Avraham. At the beginning, they were considered greater than him and he was in a kind of awe of them, but after he exerted himself so strongly in kindness, they recognized his great level and that he was greater than them – consequently, they became in awe of him.

A possible explanation of this Midrash is that the Angels were in awe of Avraham’s trait of kindness in particular, because they were not able to reach this level – Angels can only do what God instructs them, no more and no less, but a human being can use his free will to exert himself greatly in Mitzvot. This is what caused the Angels to realize their subservience to Avraham.

Returning to the Midrash in Shemot, the Maharzu4 comments that when God reminded the Angels that they ‘went down’ to Avraham, He was alluding to this point – that Avraham, and by extension, the Jewish people, were greater than the Angels. The fact that Moshe’s appearance resembled Avraham was coming to show that Moshe had emulated Avraham’s kindness and so in a spiritual aspect, was able to tap in to Avraham’s great merit.

The question remains as to why in particular the merit of Avraham’s trait of kindness was invoked, more than the other Patriarchs, in order to enable the Jewish people to receive the Torah. The commentaries on this Midrash refer to a Gemara that stresses the fundamental connection between Torah and Kindness.5 The Gemara teaches that the Torah begins with an act of kindness and ends with an act of kindness: It begins with the kindness of God giving clothing to Adam and Chava, and it ends with God doing the kindness of burying Moshe. The Maharsha comments that the Gemara is coming to teach that the whole of Torah from the beginning to the end is about kindness. He brings as a support the verse in Eishet Chayil that refers to Torah as Torat Chessed – the Torah of kindness - and he ends by saying that the trait of kindness is above all the other positive traits.

Based on this idea, it is evident why God invoked the merit of Avraham’s kindness in particular when proving to the Angels that man is more deserving of receiving the Torah than Angels. The Torah is in essence a book of kindness, beginning and ending with kindness and encapsulating kindness throughout. In this vein, the Path of the Just writes, that the world was created as an act of kindness by God to give pleasure to mankind by connecting to Him. The Torah is the means through which man connects to Him, and therefore its whole essence is as a vessel to enable the Jewish people to reach their fulfillment – that is the highest possible act of kindness.

One of the people who most exemplified Torah and kindness together was Reb Moshe Reichmann, one of the greatest philanthropists in the Jewish world, who also steadfastly adhered to the Torah while achieving great success in business. In his youth, he learnt in the Yeshiva of Rabbi Moshe Schneider in London along with Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, one of the leading Torah Authorities of this generation. Rabbi Sternbuch would often share a memory from their days in the Yeshivah. Funds were tight, and the local bakery would share their unsold bread, rolls and cake with the bachurim. Each morning, a bachur was assigned the task of going to pick up the baked goods. Moshe Reichmann often filled that role, stepping in for others who did not want the burden. During that time period, Moshe Sternbuch served as ‘vekker’ – circulating in the dormitory during the predawn hours, waking the others so that they could learn before Shacharit. Reflecting on the dedication of the two bachurim, the Rosh Yeshivah remarked, “Moshe Reichmann, who carries sacks of bread for all of us, will someday provide bread for all of the Jewish people, and Moshe Sternbuch, who gets up early to enable others to learn Torah, will be a great Torah Sage, teaching Torah to all the Jewish nation.”6

As the story demonstrates, each person has their own unique contribution to the world, but it is clear that whatever that is, the twin values of Torah and kindness are always the foundation.

  1. Bereishit Rabbah, 18:8.
  2. Bereishit, 18:2.
  3. Bereishit, 18:8.
  4. One of the main commentaries on the Midrash.
  5. Sotah, 14a.
  6. ‘Reb Moshe Reichmann, Building for Eternity’, by Yisroel Besser, p.p.52-54. When asked about this story, Moshe Reichmann generally claimed that he did not recall the comment of his Rebbe, but once he remarked, “I wish I had been the one to wake up the others!.”

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