The Parsha in Chesed – Lech L’cha
I was once meeting with a group of community activists prior to the holiday season. We were discussing the needs of individuals and how to best appropriate resources.
Among those being assessed, the “Goldberg family” came up. They had fallen upon some difficult times and had applied for assistance.
I mentioned that my sole interaction with them had occurred about 2 years prior. I was driving carpool for my daughter and friends when my car tire went flat. I pulled off to the side and went out to check out the damage.
It was quite stressful to be on the side of a narrow, winding road with a minivan full of 8 year old girls.
Let me add that this was in the days before cellphones….
Despite scores of other carpool drivers passing by not one person stopped to offer help. While at first a bit frustrated, I decided that they were either too busy with their own carpools or concerned about stopping on the narrow road.
After what seemed to be an eternity, “Mrs. Goldberg” pulled up behind my car. She asked if she could do anything to help. I thanked her and said that I would deal with the tire if she could possibly help with the carpool. She graciously took upon herself to ferry the girls to school. I thanked her and went on to change the flat.
Coming back to the meeting, I commented that this is an upstanding and deserving family and we should do whatever possible to help. The meeting adjourned at about 12:30 AM and each of us headed out.
On the way home, I passed a stopped vehicle with its emergency lights on. Passing the driver’s side, I noticed a woman and her child in the car. It was “Mrs. Goldberg”. I was incredulous.
I stopped and approached her window. When she recognized me, she said, “Oh Rabbi Leventhal, thank you so much for stopping. I picked up my daughter from a babysitting job and the car stalled here and won’t start. We had considered walking home but I was so concerned, as this isn’t the best neighborhood”.
After determining that the issue was beyond my mechanical expertise, I offered to drive Mrs. Goldberg and daughter home. Mrs. Goldberg and her daughter thanked me and bid me good night (morning).
I don’t know if they fell asleep right away. I certainly could not.
It was clear to me that the timing was not a coincidence. The mention of her prior act of chesed to me, was the catalyst for her to benefit from mine.
In Kohelet, Shlomo Hamelech suggests שַׁלַּח לַחְמְךָ עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם, כִּי בְרֹב הַיָּמִים תִּמְצָאֶנּוּ : “cast your bread upon the waters for you will find it in many days.”
There are different explanations as to what Shlomo Hamelech intended with these words. The most common idea suggests that the karma created by doing good to others (casting your bread), will come back to benefit you in the future.
While some might have selfish motivation, many people help others for altruistic reasons. They don’t seek reward or compensation for acts of kindness. Their heart’s desire, through word or deed, is to bestow goodness onto others.
Regardless of intentions, the result of doing good is a better, kinder and more functioning world.
This Parsha contains 2 instances in which someone did a good deed and they reaped future benefits for their actions.
The first involves Lot, Avraham’s relative and travel companion.
As they approached Egypt, Avraham instructed Sarai to say that she was his sister rather than his wife. This instruction was for the benefit of the both of them as Avraham was concerned that he would be “disposed of” in order for Sarai to be taken as a wife. His words were that she should say that she is his sister so that “it will be good for me because of you and I will live for your sake”. Rashi comments that “it will be good for me” means that they will give me gifts. Sarai was in fact taken to the palace of the king as a wife, she related that she was Avraham’s sister and was saved due to Divine intervention. And indeed, Avraham profited from this incident.
Where was Lot during this entire exchange? Unlike Avraham, he was truly the brother of Sarai as they were both the children of Haran. Lot, who was not known to be the most righteous of men, could have easily spoken up and received the financial rewards in place of Avraham. Rather than give up Avraham, Lot decided to remain silent despite the potential windfall.
“Cast your bread”….
While there seems to be no indication that Lot was looking for reward, Lot’s kindness was repaid when he was captured with the other residents of Sodom and freed, with all of his possessions, by Avraham during the war of the 4 vs. 5 kings. In addition, Lot became a very wealthy man.
The second example of kindness comes from a much less noble place and is related to us via the midrash.
The parsha tells us that after Lot was captured, the “refugee” came and told Avraham. Who was this “refugee”? The giant Og, later the King of Bashan.
His intention was that Avraham would be killed trying to save Lot and he would take Sarai as a wife.
Not exactly an altruistic act by any stretch of the imagination.
And yet, Og was rewarded for this “act of kindness”. Chazal teach us that Og lived an extraordinarily long life (he was killed by Moshe, hundreds of years later) as a payback for his “consideration” to Lot and Avraham.
Chesed/kindness is so powerful that HaShem looks at the end result even when the means to that end are less than perfect. If someone inadvertently drops some money and a poor person finds it and benefits, the “loser” gains the merit of giving tzedakah without even knowing.
If it is true that if unintended, or even ill intended, kindness has a positive effect then certainly sincere chesed can create incredible blessing for the one performing it.
What goes around comes around. While many relate this to the negative results of improper behavior, I would rather apply the wisdom of Shlomo HaMelech…
“Cast your bread”…. A positive action will never go unrewarded.
Never underestimate the power of doing good. While you may have no intention of gaining anything in return, the rewards are immeasurable, both for you and the world around us.