The Tabernacle Times
January 2018 ......................... Tevet - Shevat 5778 ......................... Volume 1 Issue 1

Gemilut Chasadim

Angela Kunkel
Angela Kunkel
  As Shimon the Just (a remnant of the Great Assembly) declared in the opening lines of Pirkei Avot (1:2) ‘On three things does the (continued) existence of the world depend: Torah (study), avodah (initially the temple service, later prayer), and gemilut chasadim (literally, “the giving or acts of lovingkindness).

Gemilut chasadim is used to describe everything from the work done by synagogue committees (that visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the
HaShem Himself clothed them with garments of skin (Genesis 3:21). When Moses dies alone on Mount Nebo after viewing the Promised Land that he was forbidden from entering, the Bible states, “He (HaShem) buried him in the land of Moab ....and no one knows his burial place to this day” (Deuteronomy 34:6). HaShem took responsibility to clothe the naked and attend the funeral of Moses. To perform such acts of kindness we aspire to the Divine level of mercy and compassion, thus we glorify The Holy One.

Practicing compassion is the underlying motivation for the adherence to all of HaShem’s commandments, for without the inner motivation of love, there is little point to anything else the Torah might say. After all, the two great
naked, and bury the dead) to service projects designed for high school students to lessons on how to treat a homeless person you pass on the street. Gemilut chasadim is a fundamental social value, a mitzvah that an individual completes without the anticipation of receiving something in return. There is no xed measure of gemilut chasadim, which is why the rabbinic teachers articulate the importance of doing it all the time.

The Talmud states that gemilut chasadim is superior to tzedakah (charity) in three respects: “Charity can be given only with one’s money”, “Charity can be given only to the poor”, and “Charity can be given only to the living”. Gemilut chasadim is given by personal service and money, it can be given to the rich and poor, and it can be for the living and the dead. In fact the ultimate example of gemilut chasadim is giving honor
to the dead (such as attending the funeral or burial), since there is no chance that
the deceased will ever return the favor. The reward for service of an act of kindness remains in the world to come.

During the Middle Ages, the broad concept of gemilut chasadim became restricted to the granting of interest-free loans to the needy. At a time when money lending (to non-Jews) was the major Jewish occupation, making a loan to a fellow Jew without interest essentially precluded the opportunity to use that money for a pro table business transaction. In the modern period, the term “gemilut chasadim” has again been expanded to refer not only to free-loan societies but also to a wide variety of communal welfare organizations.

The Torah begins and ends with HaShem performing the supreme value of gemilut chasadim. As Adam and Eve are about to be exiled from the Garden of Eden,
            (Continued at top of next column)
  commandments of Scripture center on loving G-d and loving others as ourselves (Deuteronomy 6:4-6 and Mark 12:29-31). Just as a chair requires at least three legs to function, we also require such “pillars”. These pillars are found in the Torah and in the writings of the New Testament. We are called to study the Scriptures (Acts 17:11, 2 Timothy 2:15), we are called to serve and love G-d (Matthew 4:10, 6:24, 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 2 Timothy 1:3), and we are called to love one another (John 13:34-35, John 15:17, Romans 12:10, 13:8, etc). Indeed the Torah of Messiah is the path of sacri cial love and gemilut chasidim.

Happy Hanukkah

“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for the one who loves another has ful lled the Torah. For the commandments--”You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and any other commandment--are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fullness of the Torah.” --Romans 13:8-10

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