Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gemilut Chasadim and Loving your Neighour as Yourself ran a link to an article by discussing the giving of aid, and how giving the wrong thing often makes a person feel good, even though it is not the right thing for the recipient at all. You can read the article here:
JBlog Central - The Jewish Blog Network | Killing them with kindness

We made a kiddush yesterday to celebrate the birth of our daughter, and while thinking of something to say I came up with the same idea. (BTW thank you to everyone who was able to come and help eat the kugel and everything else. And especially thanks to those who brought food or helped set up/ clear up. And especially, especially thanks to my mother-in-law for doing everything else).
Ariella was born on the second day of the Omer, and the middah for that day is gevurah shebechesed. This is a limitation of chesed. Pure chesed is giving without limits, without discrimination, without concern for what is best for the recipient. This led to the creation of the world, but it can also smother or destroy the recipient of that chesed, but making them dependent on others, or by giving them things that are dangerous or bad for them. This is the dilemma of every parent - when to say 'yes' and when to say 'no', when to fully be in control of everything the child does, and when to allow them independence.
The worst example of misplaced chesed is in yesterday's parsha (Kedoshim) when it refers to incest as chesed. This is a complete travesty of giving in a positive way (and is so shocking as a form of chesed that Rashi claims at first that it is an Aramaic word).
Gevurah provides boundaries, and allows for giving within a defined context. This is the real meaning of 'gemilut chasadim' - gemilut means 'weaning', it is chesed which doesn't overpower the recipient but gives them their own independence, and allows them to eventually wean themselves away from the giver. This is why the best form of charity is to provide someone with a means of earning a livelihood.
Perhaps this explains the difficulty in the phrase 'v'ahavta l're'acha kamocha' - all the commentaries ask how you can love someone 'as yourself'. The verse only needed to say 'you shall love your neighbour'. Most of the answers given explain the level of giving - how much you should give. But I think it also means that we must love our neighour but only in a way that allows them an independent existence. It must be 'like yourself' so that it doesn't become yourself. When the neighbour's life becomes your life you are no longer able to help them effectively.
To do proper chesed requires understanding what the person needs, and allowing them to develop the skills or whatever else they need to eventually be able to provide for their own needs. It is much more difficult than just giving, and doesn't alway make you feel so good, but it is the only way to really do gemilut chasadim to someone else.

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