I remember a few years ago- I was standing in the lobby, having just returned from a period of military service. I think I might have even been in uniform. I was definitely still in Army/Colonel mode. I sort of barked at one of my colleagues in a way that surprised even me as I heard the tone of my voice and the words that came out of my mouth. I remember feeling taken aback at my own harshness and immediately requested the opportunity to retract my words and try again.
I recalled that moment last week when Ron called in the middle of the work day, something he does not often do. I felt my heart skip a beat at seeing his name on the caller ID, and had the opposite experience of that moment in the temple lobby. This time, I was taken aback at the softness in my voice, as I transitioned in a nanosecond from “being in the office” mode to “speaking to my beloved” mode. I wondered about that. I wondered what it would be like if I could be in touch with that gentleness and kindness, that love, all the time, or, at least, more often? What the world needs now is love, sweet love? What if we could ALL live more in a place of love and less in a place of harshness in more of our interactions with each other?
Jews don’t necessarily make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day, yet, today is certainly an appropriate day to reflect on how we might bring more love into all of our relationships, from the most casual to the most intimate. Love is kindness in action. It is being attuned to another person’s needs without their having to articulate them. It is being fully present. We have been reading in the Torah for the past few weeks about the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. Love is about opening, softening our hearts. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler teaches that, “If you make an effort to help everyone you meet, you will feel close to everyone. A stranger is someone you have not yet helped. Doing acts of kindness for everyone you can fills your world with friends and loved ones.” He reminds us that the personality infused with chesed is not concerned with what he or she can take from the world, but is, rather, focused exclusively on giving.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks translates the word chesed, lovingkindness, as, “love expressed as deed.” It is love beyond the level of feeling, it is love as doing. The word chesed appears 245 times in the Torah. The Midrash (Sotah 14a) suggests that the Torah begins and ends with acts of chesed, opening with God clothing Adam and Eve and concluding with God burying Moses. The Torah is filled with acts of chesed. On this day, especially, we remind ourselves to fill our days with acts of chesed.
The prophet Micah (6:8) suggests that there are really only 3 things that God wants from us- one is to do justly, one is to walk humbly, and the third is to love chesed, to love loving acts of kindness. Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness. Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin said that “A day that a Jew does not do a kindness is not considered a day in his life.”
At Thanksgiving time, we often reflect that, really, EVERY day should be “Thanksgiving,” a day filled with gratitude and appreciation of our many blessings. What if every day was “Valentine’s Day,” filled with acts of love and kindness? “A physician once said, the best medicine for humans is love. Someone asked, ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ He smiled and said, ‘Increase the dose’.” “The world,” writes the Psalmist, (89:3), “is built on kindness.” Olam chesed yibaneh. Feb. 14th seems to be a good day to renew our own commitment to build OUR world on chesed. Olam chesed yibaneh- I will build this world on love. .