While giving charity (tzedakah) is an act of kindness (chesed), acts of kindness are not necessarily charity. According to the Talmudic sage Rabbi Elazar, “Acts of My 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) Charity can only be done with money, whereas kindness can be done with one’s person or one’s money. (2) Acts of charity can only be performed for the poor, while kindness can be done for any person, rich or poor. (3) Charity can only be done for the living, while kindness can be done for both the living and the dead (e.g. burying the dead).

There are many ways in which a person can perform acts of kindness. Some of the best-known mitzvot associated with chesed are: visiting the sick, welcoming guests and helping a bride and groom.

Opportunities to visit the sick, welcome guests or help a young couple do not usually occur on a daily basis. Chesed opportunities, however, are available to most people numerous times each day. Acts of kindness are performed when helping a co-worker resolve a problem or holding the door for someone even when it means waiting an extra minute. In truth, 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).

Today, November 13th, is World Kindness Day, but in Judaism, every day, indeed, every moment, is an opportunity to perform acts of kindness.

This Treat was originally posted on November 13, 2012.

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