In honor of “World Kindess Day,” let me ask you a question. Are you a kind person?
It’s a funny sort of question, and one which I would guess most people don’t frequently ask themselves. We grow up being taught about doing good deeds and being nice to others, and, for the most part, we integrate these concepts in our lives, but do we ever really think about what it means to be kind?
If I were to ask you right now to give me an example of an act of kindness, what would you say? For many people, the go-to answer is making charitable contributions. After all, kindness is about giving something of oneself to help another, and the most obvious way to do this is financially. But while charity is an extremely important and virtuous activity, it says in the Talmud that “Acts of kindness are greater than charity, for it is said (Hosea 1:12), ‘Sow to yourself according to your charity, but reap according to your kindness.’ If a person sows, it is doubtful whether he will eat or not, but when a person reaps he will certainly eat it” (Sukkah 49b).
The sages go on to explain that in three ways kindness is better than charity: (1) Kindness can be done with one’s person and one’s money, as opposed to charity, which can only be done with money. (2) Kindness can be done for any person, rich or poor. (3) Kindness can be done for both the living and the dead.
Acts of kindness, known in Hebrew as gemilut chasadim, are critical not only to a happy society, but to the very existence of the world. It says in the Mishna that gemilut chasadim is one of the three pillars sustaining the world, along with Torah and service to God (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 1:2).
Imagine a society where no one takes the time to be kind to one another. It would be an extremely selfish society in which everyone focussed only on their own welfare. Indeed, according to the Midrash, one such society did exist…it was the city of Sodom. A different Mishna in Pirkei Avot lists 4 types of people:
1) The ignorant person says “what’s mine is mine and what’s your is yours;”
2) The saintly person says “what’s mine is yours and what’s your is your own;”
3) The wicked person says “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine;”
4) The person who says “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours,” is said by some to be of the attitude of Sodom.
The city of Sodom, which was destroyed by God in the days of Abraham (Genesis 19), was known as an evil city. One might therefore believe that it was full of thieves, but, actually, it was full of people who took absolutely no interest in the people around them and were uninvolved with the community at large. Theirs was a society that was not a society, it was an assortment of people living near each other and only focussing on themselves and their own needs as individuals.
While kindness is about helping other people, it is also about interacting positively with one another. There are many ways in which a person can perform acts of kindness. Some of the best-known mitzvot associated with acts of kindness are: visiting the sick, welcoming guests, and helping a bride and groom. Many of us, however, don’t always have opportunities to visit the sick, welcome guests or help a couple just starting out. But there are regular opportunities throughout the day for kindness that are often overlooked:
1) During one’s commute, simple acts such as holding the door open for the person behind you or thanking the person who held the door for you (even if you’re on the phone), helping a parent with a stroller go up or down subway stairs, or holding the elevator door when you hear the telltale footsteps of someone hurrying to make it.
2) Throughout the day at work, one can show kindness by helping a co-worker with a project, grabbing a coffee for a busy colleague or making certain to compliment a job well done.
3) And of course, kindness is always welcome at home. Home is actually the perfect place to implement one of the ideas of the World Kindness Movement, which is that one needs to do acts of kindness for oneself. This may mean buying flowers to make one’s home feel warm or taking ten minutes of “me time.” If one lives with other people, then kindness is a natural partner to being conscientious – wash the extra dishes, pay attention when being told about someone else’s day, etc.
There is one act of kindness that one can do at all times and in almost all situations. The simple act of smiling at another person is an act of kindness. The Talmud states, “The man who shows his teeth [smiles] is better than one who gives milk to drink” (Ketubot 101b).
Being kind cannot be limited to one day a year, but having World Kindness Day is a wonderful reminder of the kindesses we can do every day.
So stop reading this article and smile pleasantly at the next person that you see.
(For more on acts of kindness, visit Jewish Treats.)