Kindness

Charity is not kindness but justice; therefore, charity is clearly regulated in Jewish law. By contrast, kindness in Judaism refers to actual acts of compassion, such as visiting the sick, helping a couple to start a home or providing care for the elderly, activities that are more spontaneous and are typically more reliant of circumstances.

We are told to walk in the way of the Lord and cling to His ways, which the rabbis interpret as carry out acts of kindness: "As God is merciful, so too you should be merciful; as God is gracious, so too you should be gracious" In fact, the rabbis point out that the Torah begins and ends with acts of kindness. Towards the very beginning we read how God clothed Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21) and towards the ends we read how God Himself buried Moses (Deut 34:6).

Kindness, we are taught (Talmud Sukkah 49b), is greater than giving charity for three reasons: While charity is limited to sharing something of monetary values, kindness may also involve what you do with your person. Whereas charity is reserved for the poor, kindness is done with all. Moreover, charity can only be given to the living, but kindness can be done even to those no longer alive.

Another key difference between charity and kindness is that even someone with little in term of financial resources can show kindness. In fact, the most wonderful kindness can come in the most simple of guises. The Talmud (Taanit 22a) tells of a rabbi to who appeared the prophet Elijah while he was standing in a busy marketplace. Asked the rabbi, "Is there anyone in this marketplace worthy of a place in the World-to-Come?" A short while later, Elijah pointed out two men. Curious, the rabbi approached the men for an explanation. "We are comedians," they explained, "and we cheer up those who are desponded. Also, whenever we see two people quarrelling we strive to bring peace between them."

Kindness to ones nearest and dearest is surely kindness still, but true kindness is that which we display towards a stranger. Thus, the Bible (Leviticus 19:32) not only urges us to love our fellow, but it also repeatedly demands (Deuteronomy 10:19) that we love the stranger. The Bible (Exodus 23:5) goes further and mandates that we show kindness to our enemies and extend them material help when needed.

Judaism believes that constant acts of kindness make a person more kind, such that performing acts of kindness become increasingly the natural thing to do. Moreover, by our individual acts of kindness we provide a model of behaviour for a family and friends and ultimately for society at large. When you give up from my seat on a bus for a frail person or help someone across the road with their shopping you are not looking for attention, but typically others notice and are provided a good example of kindness, such that we create a kinder society and a kinder world.