Whether or not we outwardly acknowledge them, our lives are guided by moral principles which we must consider when making a decision. And believe it or not, these principles are directly related to the Jewish values our Hebrew school teachers tried so hard to ingrain in our minds. The tzedakah boxes they unrelentingly forced encouraged us to decorate year after year, the constant suggestions that it is our duty to repair the world, the persistent reminders that we were all created b’tzelem Elohim—regardless of whether you realize it at the time, these values drive much of what we do.
Although Hebrew school taught us what these values are called, it was our parents who encouraged us to live by them. It was our parents who pulled out the tzedakah box every Friday night, who highlighted the importance of forgiveness, and who embodiedometz lev while never leaving our sides. They are the ones who truly taught us what it means to exemplify Jewish values.
Like many Jewish thoughts, our values are all interconnected. You cannot repair the world without giving tzedakah, and you cannot give tzedakah without already being gracious for what you have. Yet the one value which I believe drives all of these and more is that of gemilut chasadim—acts of loving-kindness.
I grew up learning that, in order to make the world a better place, we must do the best with what we have. For most of us, that means using our kindness to impact others. Performing acts of loving-kindness is going out of our way to make sure others are comfortable and happy. And what better way is there to change the world than by helping someone? Because by doing that you are, in fact, improving their world. One small act of loving-kindness can make all the difference for someone.
Gemilut chasadim can be given from everyone, to everyone. It is different fromtzedakah, which is traditionally given from the rich to the poor, in that acts of loving-kindness can be performed by and to anybody. What this means is that we all have the ability to make a difference—and it is our responsibility to ensure that we do just that.
Gemilut chasadim covers both the intentions and the end results. An act of loving-kindness is, by definition, done with good intentions. Furthermore, because it is an act and is inherently active—as opposed to passive—your good intentions shine through in the deed itself.
I grew up learning that if I commit myself to performing acts of loving-kindness, I am making the world a better place. Because gemilut chasadim is so central to everything else we strive to achieve, it is important that we make a conscious effort to fulfill this mitzvah. It is our duty to improve the world and even one small deed of loving-kindness can do just that.