Extending Acts of KindnessFebruary 13, 2018 - 12:00 am
“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.” — Isaiah 58:10
The year 2018 is important for Israel and the Jewish people as we celebrate the modern State of Israel’s 70th Birthday. You can be part of this momentous milestone with Rabbi Eckstein’s 70 devotions offered now through April 19, Israel’s Independence Day. These devotions are tied to our Keys to Israel – six fundamental principles underlying God’s covenantal relationship with His chosen people and His Holy Land using the acrostic I.S.R.A.E.L.
This devotion is part of ten devotions focusing on the letter “R” — Righteous Giving — and will explore the commandment God gave to His people as they entered the Promise Land to care for the poor and the oppressed.
Hillel the Elder was a great Jewish sage who lived in the Holy Land during the first century BCE. He once was challenged by a man who asked, “Teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot!” Hillel took up the challenge and replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary – go study it!”
Hillel’s reply was a flip-flopped version of the biblical command to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). In other words, Hillel was teaching that loving others is, in essence, the entire teaching of the Bible.
With that as our framework, we can better understand the context of Isaiah 58, where God — through His prophet Isaiah — chastised the people for their meaningless fast days. Outwardly, they were serving God. However, God, who sees into everyone’s heart, knew that their worship was only superficial and He wanted none of it. What God truly desired for His people — both then and now — is to stop injustice, free the oppressed, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and provide shelter for the poor.
Kindness toward others is what God loves best.
In Psalm 118:19 we read, “Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.” Referencing this verse, the sages teach that when a person passes away, every person will stand in judgment. We will each be asked, “What was your occupation?” If one answers, “I fed the hungry,” they will answer, “This is God’s gate. You, who fed the hungry, may enter.” If one answers, “I gave drink to the thirsty,” they will reply, “This is God’s gate. You, who gave drink to the thirsty, may enter.” And so on. All who performed acts of charity and kindness will gain entrance to God’s gate.
Helping others through acts of kindness has always been of utmost importance in Judaism; indeed, as the sages’ teaching above indicates, in the Jewish tradition, it is the entry ticket into God’s Kingdom. Isaiah said, “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” How can we honour God? By serving and helping others. As one 18th century rabbi once put it, “The physical needs of another are my own spiritual obligation.”
God counts on us to provide for the needy and to use what He has given us for the less fortunate. In that way, we show our regard for God as Creator of all people, share His goodness with others, and draw others to Him. In addition, we contribute to the overall mission of all humanity, which in the Jewish faith is known as tikkun olam, or “fixing the world,” by making it a place of goodness and godliness.