Thursday, July 31, 2008

Protection During Chevlei Mashiach: Acts of Kindness and Torah


Rabbi Elazar was asked by his students what the person should do in order to save themselves from "Chevlei Mashiach" - "חבלי משיח" - the birthpangs of Mashiach. He answered them that the person should make sure to involve themselves in Torah study and perform acts of kindness - גמילות חסדים. (Sanhedrin, 98b) The time of the "birthpangs of Mashiach" is a time that can be very hard and treacherous on the world, the Jewish People, and each individual. The above advice should be taken at all times, and would be of great benefit to those people who take advantage of it.

Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya'akov is quoted in "Pirkei Avos" (4; 11) as teaching that good actions and teshuvah - repentance act as a shield against suffering.

Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar teaches that every gathering that takes place - "L'Shem Shamayim" - for the sake of Heaven, will continue to exist. This teaching, in the same mishna, is also a piece of advice: If people find themselves in treacherous circumstances, they should gather a group together and decide to all be careful about a given mitzvah. I heard a story that was told over by a woman who survived the holocaust. She and a number of her friends, seeing the terrible situation that they faced, decided to all be careful to properly observe the laws of Jewish speech - Shemiras Halashon. After the war, this woman recounted that all of the people in that group found each other. Every single person in that group had survived the war! Considering the statistics, the "chances" of such an occurrence would be close to zero. However, we are not playing "statistics" and "chances", for HaShem runs the world and all existence. Therefore, simply by following The Torah and the type of life HaShem instructs us to live, He, The True Provider of Protection, offers us His Protection. Such a story is one, probably of very many incidents throughout history where a group of people gathered together to act for the sake of Heaven. HaShem is The One Who offers protection and He tells us, in His Torah and through His scholars how we can very reasonably attain that protection, simply by being determined to take Him up "on any one of His many offers", repent, and act out our determination for the good.


We learn in sefer "Micha" about the importance of performing kindness. The pasuk is from the Haftorah of Parshas "Balak" and states "He (i.e. HaShem) tells the person what is good, and that which HaShem seeks from you, is only to perform justice, and to love kindness, and to walk modestly with G-d". (6; 8) This haftorah deals with the situation subsequent to the sin committed by many of The B'nei Yisrael at Peor with the women of Midian and Moav. Micha is asking what great sacrifice can be brought to HaShem after having committed such a great sin. The above pasuk is the answer. The MaLBI"M (Rav Meir Leibush ben Yichiel Michel) explains the pasuk that HaShem only wants to perform justice - "mishpat" - i.e. the mitzvot between man and his fellow, to perform and love acts of kindess, doing more than that which is fitting and sufficient for him (RaDa"K- Rav David Kimchi), and to be modest in our performance of the mitzvot between man and HaShem (MaLBI"M).

We should look for every possible way that we can reasonably perform acts of kindness, as you noted in your e-mail in line with what the RaDa"K taught, i.e. doing more than would "just do" considering our situation, but we should perform acts of kindness. Each act of kindness that we perform being unique at least in some way, and carrying the potential to add greatly to benefit the quality of life of others, no matter how "small" or "insignificant" the action may appear - evening smiling at someone or asking them how their day went, for example (it might seem surprising to some people how significant of a benefit a "seemingly insignificant" action can have, both for the good and, l'havdil, for the bad). Obviously it true that each, or at least many, of our actions can carry great significance, this being evident as HaShem has blessed each of us with our unique strengths and gifts, which, if we only decide to take advantage of the opportunities that are always present, can benefit The B'nei Yisrael and help bring our unique qualities into reality through action, truly benefiting mankind and existence, both spiritually and physically. By taking advantage of every unique opportunity, as you note, we are bringing a unique gift (or gifts) to the world - unique from the respect of the individual who performs it, for only that person possesses those particularly unique gifts and qualities, as well as the love in performing the action properly, and the particular situation at that time. By working toward doing what we can to benefit the world - taking advantage of every opportunity to better ourselves and others, as well as avoiding the negatives - both negative middot and aveirot - working to overcome our Yetzer HaRa, we can truly help do our part and influence others toward reaching a state of "completion" through the way we lead our lives. G-d Willing, by doing so, we will make our unique contribution toward helping Creation realize completion, and merit that the revelation of Mashiach and of the Messianic ear which will end this longest and last galut. All we have to do is take advantage of the opportunities to better ourselves, through acts of kindness, and following the mitzvot between man and his fellow and the mitzvot between man and G-d.