A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 32 – Grace and Kindness

The quality of grace (chen) is constantly paired with the attribute of kindness (chesed), and the phrase “grace and kindness” (chen v’chesed) appears often in prayers and blessings. At such times they blend into a single idea that synthesizes each of their separate contributions, forming a linguistic “marriage,” an idiom. As such they become an entity unto themselves. Since chinuch (“initiation/integration”) shares a common root with chen(“grace”), it follows that chesed (“kindness”) would then relate to hadracha (“integration”) and its root derech(“way”). And further, that this particular pair, chen and chesed (“grace” and “kindness”) would mirror the relationship between chinuch and hadracha–between inspiration and integration.

This implies that, while inspiration is the path of grace, integration must be a path of performing acts of loving-kindness. This relationship is verified in another way as well:

Abraham became identified with integration when God chose him as patriarch of the Jewish people because of his commitment to teaching others the “way” of God–the way of righteousness and justice.

Based on statements in the Torah, Talmud and Kabbalah, Abraham’s name and person are essentially connected to the attribute of loving-kindness.

Since Abraham is identified with integration–and with loving-kindness, righteousness, and justice–these ideas become directly related to each other through their mutual connection to him.

Yet there is a further step that establishes a direct link between them. This is a verse from Psalms that reads, “If a person loves righteousness and justice, then the kindness of God fills the earth.” Kindness thus appears in direct juxtaposition with “righteousness and justice,” the two factors which merited Abraham’s designation as archetypal educator.

From this we learn that the educator must train his students to behave in accordance with the principles of righteousness and justice. The students have integrated their lessons when they relate to their fellow human beings with generosity and loving-kindness, while they judge themselves stringently, nullifying all selfish motivations so as to perform the work of kindness with a greater abundance of resources, both material and emotional. This effort from below will draw God’s generosity and loving-kindness into the world from above.

The Jerusalem Talmud calls charitable giving (tzedakah) by the generic term, “commandment” (mitzvah), implying that it is the all-inclusive commandment. It does so for several reasons. First, God’s primary relationship to the world is one of giving, in that His continual recreation of the universe, from absolute nothing, in each moment, is pure tzedakah. This gift of existence, His ultimate kindness, is the very foundation of the universe. Since emulating God draws us near to Him, then tzedakah would be particularly conducive to this end, emulating the primary way that God relates to His creation. Second, the separation of a portion from our weekly earnings for this purpose turns each moment of work into an act of fulfilling this commandment, since our entire being is engaged at that time in generating tzedakah. In this way, our entire workweek becomes a mitzvah, sanctified and elevated into the category of Divine service.

Jewish law requires the giving of a minimum of 10% and a maximum of 20% of all income to charitable purposes. Even a beggar whose only income is tzedakah must separate the minimum tithe. Yet there are extenuating circumstances where this maximum does not apply. One exception is during famine when people are starving and destitute. In such a situation any householder who has more than others must sell everything and give it all away, until he has equaled himself to the community. He does not have to make himself worse than the others, but neither can he hoard while others starve.

The second extenuating circumstance is more common–this is the sickness of soul that plagues our generation. Since we have lost the physical and spiritual strength to fully atone for these “ailments” through fasting, tzedakahhas become the most potent medicine available. For exactly the reasons mentioned, it possesses the power to fix the soul–to heal the scars, bruises, and callousness resulting from all manner of transgressions whether by thought, speech and deed. Giving to others is a purgative, it cleans out the residue of decadent living, of forbidden foods and forbidden relations. Just as we would spend anything necessary to save our life, so should we give tzedakah to redeem our soul. In this situation of “tzedakah as medicine,” the maximum of 20% does not apply.

The third exception applies to those who have approached the level of Abraham in relation to this particular attribute and find that giving tzedakah has become their greatest pleasure and satisfaction. Then, just as they are free to spend money on temporal pleasures, how much more so may they indulge themselves in the joy of emulating God by walking in His ways and giving freely.

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