"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Monday, November 29, 2010

Holy vs. unholy kindness

Holy vs. unholy kindness

Rabbi Y. Oliver

According to Chassidus, no emotion is inherently good or bad. Not all severity is bad, and not all kindness is good (see here). This article will discuss Chessed (kindness), and show how to differentiate between Chessed of holiness and Chessed of Kelipah.

Chessed of Kelipah is driven by self-interest. It may stem from a lust for honor, power, influence, fame, or praise. Yishmael epitomized this kind of Chessed.

In contrast, Chessed of holiness stems from a feeling of bittul (humility). A humble person feels completely unworthy of his prosperity, and thus feels an urge to give away his possessions to others, whom he regards as far more notable and deserving of having such resources than he.

Hence Avraham, who epitomized Chessed of holiness (see here), declared of himself, “I am but dust and ashes.”[1] It was this feeling that drove him to be kind to everyone, even the primitive pagan desert nomads.

This difference also manifests itself in the source of the kindness. Since Chessed of Kelipah is selfish, it will only motivate one to give when it is convenient. Once all one’s own needs and desires have been provided for, if excess funds remain, the person may be willing to donate them to charitable causes instead of using the money to indulge in a life of luxury (and even then, only with a selfish intent, as mentioned).

In contrast, one who operates according to the Chessed of Kedushah is not only willing to forgo luxuries; he is even willing to give up his own necessities, if he sees that others desperately need them.

One should constantly introspect and examine one’s motives in sharing with others to determine whether they are truly worthy, and stem from Kedushah, or they are spurred by self-interest, and stem from Kelipah.

Charity need not involve the physical; one can also give spiritual charity, as our sages say: 
“The only rich person is one wealthy in [Torah] knowledge; the only poor person is one poor in [Torah] knowledge.”[2]This is when the more spiritually “wealthy” and blessed person shares his or her knowledge of Torah and Mitzvos, Chassidus, and proper conduct with others.

But unfortunately, spiritual charity can also be driven by ulterior motives. Although one is conveying spirituality, one may be motivated, at least on the external, conscious level, by an unworthy desire. 

Likewise, one can give in a selfish manner, with a feeling of superiority to the recipient, and/or with the intent of some kind of personal gain. Or one can give in the opposite way, out of a sense of humility and unworthiness, and a sense that others deserve this wisdom more than oneself.

Here, too, one’s motives will be reflected in the way in which one gives. A selfish giver of the spiritual will only ever be willing to share with others once he has satisfied his own legitimate spiritual needs. If he then finds that some time and energy remain that he can devote to assisting others, he is willing to do so. However, he will never help others at the expense of his personal growth.

Needless to say, it is foolish to take this concept to an extreme and completely neglect one’s personal growth because one is so preoccupied with helping others. This is analogous to a philanthropist who gives away all his money to charity and must then turn to becoming a beggar. Rather, it means that the person is willing, from time to time, as needed and appropriate under the circumstances, to forgo his own spiritual necessities when he sees that others desperately need his guidance.

[1] Bereishis 18:27.
[2] Nedarim 41a.

Based on Toras Menachem 5712, Vol. 4, pp. 183-185.

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