Today, November 13, 2013 is “World Kindness Day.”

An entire generation of North Americans hear the words “random acts of kindness” and immediately think of Oprah Winfrey. Without question, the queen of afternoon television has done amazing things and, in the process, reminded millions of her fans and followers of an extremely important ethic in society. Acts of kindness, known in Hebrew as gm’eelut chasadim or simply chesed, are so important, in fact, that the Talmudic sage Shimon the Righteous considered it one of the three things that sustain the world (along with Torah and service to God–Pirkei Avot 1:2).

Often, when a discussion turns to “good acts,” people pull out their checkbooks to make a charitable donation. Donating one’s money as charity is a beautiful and important mitzvah, that is known in Hebrew as tzedakah, which comes from the Hebrew word for righteousness (tzedek). However, the sages make a distinction between tzedakah and chesed:

“Our Rabbis taught: In three respects are acts of kindness superior to charity: Charity can be done only with one’s money, but acts of kindness can be done with one’s body and one’s money. Charity can be given only to the poor, acts of kindness both to the rich and the poor. Charity can be given to the living only, acts of kindness can be done both to the living and to the dead” (Sukkah 49b).

Anyone can perform acts of kindness. More importantly, acts of kindness can be small, seemingly insignificant gestures (holding the door for someone, passing along a resume, or preparing a meal for a new mother and her family) or large (letting someone live in your house while they look for a new home, chauffeuring someone to multiple doctor visits). And no matter how simple the act may seem, to the recipient, that kindness is priceless.

This Treat was last posted on February 15, 2011.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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