Home > Rabbi's Message > There is Holiness in Acts of Kindness

Many of us think the word mitzvah means “a good deed,” and in common parlance that is certainly true. Yet, the literal translation of the word mitzvah is “commandment,” specifically a “divine commandment.” A mitzvah is something God demands of us to do. Every “you shall…” implies “you can.” We can, by following God’s commandments, access holiness within ourselves and bring that holiness out into the world.

There are seventy-two mitzvot according to Maimonides in this week’s Torah portion from Deuteronomy, Ki Teitzei. Some say more than in any other portion of Torah. Quite a number of these mitzvot deal with acts of kindness: returning lost items to their rightful owner; preventing injury to others; providing refuge; and not taking advantage of the destitute. The portion even addresses kindness to animals. When one takes young birds or eggs from a nest, one must first send away the mother bird (22:6-7). The mother bird should be spared the distress of seeing harm come to her fledglings. Kindness, whether toward animals or people, exemplifies God’s divine attributes of chesed v’rachamim, “mercy and compassion,” both synonyms for “kindness.”

Kindness is at the heart of this month’s Elul Mitzvah Challenge sponsored by Women of Am Echad and spearheaded by its President, Phyllis Zuckerbrot (please see our Facebook posts). There are many ways to enact kindness in the world, as we’ve learned from our Temple President Greta Kantrowitz, who has made kindness the theme of many of her Shabbat greetings. Offering kindness to an individual or as an act in support of the community has the potential to change the world, and may just be the thing we need to bring more holiness into our own lives.

Rabbi Bellush