With the Covid pandemic essentially behind us, B’H, we can refocus on our interactions with each other and put aside restraints we may have had on inviting guests and performing other acts of Chesed that require close contact. The lessons of Avraham Avinu’s chesed that we read about in these weeks’ Parshiyos provide a wonderful opportunity to gain new insights into how far reaching Chesed should be. Two important facets of Avraham’s chesed guide us towards appropriate goals we should be striving to achieve.
This was true concern for others – it started with the here and now, but his care stretched to eternity. Avraham truly loved his fellow man. That love found expression in tending to his fellow’s physical needs for food and shelter. Avraham understood that the essence of humanity is to emulate Hashem’s traits of kindness and goodness, and he devoted himself to the wellbeing of every individual. This concern for the physical wellbeing of others was only half the picture. Avraham nurtured the soul of his fellow man as well. This was true concern for others – it started with the here and now, but his care stretched to eternity.
It is furthermore important to note, that Avraham’s focus on the needs of others was not at the expense of his own family. The Torah makes several indirect references to the fact that he enlisted the help of his children in the care of others. Most famously, by the incident with the three angels in next week’s Parsha – the Torah tells us (Bereishis 18:7 see Rashi) “ויתן אל הנער…” Avraham gave his son Yishmael meat to prepare to serve the guests. Involving and working with his child is an everlasting lesson Avraham Avinu taught us as to the appropriate manner of being mechanech our children to do chesed.
At whatever level we involve ourselves in Chesed, we mustn’t lose sight of our children. They are integral to our efforts in presenting the splendor of Shabbos to outsiders. When not-yet-religious guests enter our home, or join us in a communal Seudah, they are entering an environment that is bewildering; Halachos, Minhagim, Tefilos, Zemiros, Bentching, Divrei Torah, family traditions, just plain `shtick’ – what are they to make of it?
Our children are happy, lively, comfortable with Shabbos and Torah & Mitzvos… No matter how spectacular the food and presentation are, reactions and judgments will be made primarily over two aspects of the experience; the level of warmth conveyed toward them and the impression the children will make on them. That is something almost anyone can relate to. Our children are happy, lively, comfortable with Shabbos and Torah & Mitzvos, knowledgeable and genuine. They convey an aura that is completely unknown in the outside world. When they say over their Divrei Torah and their Parsha sheets, guests are simply amazed.
Lest you think that such children only reside in those picture-perfect families (who always exist somewhere else!), step back and envision your children through the eyes of an uninitiated Jew – you will realize what a treasure you have. Even if the Zemiros last only two minutes and the kids bicker a bit, (ok, a lot more than a bit!), even if your child can’t remember some detail about the Parsha, they still represent a commodity that the nonobservant can only dream about.
Realize the tremendous opportunity that we have. If our children can make such a tremendous impact on others, it surely compels us to involve them as much as possible – before, during and after. Speak with them about the fact it is such a privilege to be a Torah Jew, how proud we are of it and we naturally want this goodness for others as well.
When it comes to Chesed, children want to participate and are excited to be involved. We mentioned in a previous letter the value of our children experiencing the joys of Yiddishkeit. When it comes to Chesed, children want to participate and are excited to be involved. Enable them to be active participants. Let them help with food preparation, set up, decorating the room, making place cards, perhaps serving and certainly cleanup. Encourage them to plan their role during the meal and throughout Shabbos. This win-win will capture the hearts of your guests, and greatly enhance the chinuch of your children.
With best wishes for a unified, connected and child-oriented Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann