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Shemot

Kindness Makes a True Leader

It made Moses, Aaron, Yocheved and Miriam into leaders and we too can do kindness and become true leaders.

Illustration Israeli Soup Kitchen / Flash 90
During bleak periods of Jewish history, there have always been stories of those who have done acts of chessed (kindness) at great personal sacrifice, even at the point of threat to their lives. Such stories remain to inspire us from the Holocaust, the Inquisition and the Roman Conquest of Israel. The first bleak period the Jewish people suffered as a nation was their enslavement in Egypt and the subsequent infanticide.

But the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them, and they caused the boys to live. (Shemos 1:17)
 

The midwives Shifrah and Puah, who according to the Midrash are, Yocheved and Miriam, not only defied Pharaoh's decree but did everything they could to make the births easier. Childbirth under the best of circumstances is stressful for all concerned. Doing chessed at any time takes effort. Doing chessed at a time of great mortal danger requires great courage and unusual spiritual resources of faith and strength. We are not called upon every day to demonstrate such idealism, heroism or messirus nefesh (sacrifice). However, many of us, at least once in our lives, will be given an opportunity to surpass ourselves and rise to the task. It is a test whose rewards in this world and the next are immeasurable. G-d rewarded Yocheved with the families of Kohanim and Leviim and Miriam became an ancestress of the Davidic Dynasty (Sotah 11b, Rashi). When we rise to the occasion of doing chessed under difficult circumstances we merit Divine protection and reward, but most of all we merit becoming closer to the Divine image and that is the greatest reward of all.

"Do you know what Mama and I are doing, Esther? We 'cornered the market' on this great mitzvah! All the many 'dividends' that we shall earn from it will remain with our family forever and ever. You are a very rich girl, for you help Mama with the orchim. Your children and grandchildren will also be wealthy because of our outstanding 'business of hachnosas orchim'. You will go with Mama someplace another time, but when you earn millions within a short while, you grasp the opportunity. You do not let it slip through your fingers." (All for the Boss, p. 51)

She opened it and saw the child, and behold a youth was crying. She took pity on him and said, "This is one of the Hebrew boys." (Shemos 2:6)
 
It is usually understood that both the words 'child' and 'youth' are referring to Moshe. The Baal HaTurim offers another interpretation; that child is referring to Moshe and youth is referring to Aharon, who was three years older and standing by the basket crying. When Basya saw one boy crying over the plight of another she was sure that this was a Jewish child, since compassion is one of the three traits that define a Jew (along with modesty and loving kindness).

Rav Nissan Alpert, in his eulogy for Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l, explained that "chessed and emes (truth) are not compatible concepts. Kindness flows from the heart ... Truth is established by the brain... When chessed and emes are mentioned together in the Torah (Bereishis 24:49; Shemos 34:6; Yehoshua 2:14), the word chesed always precedes the word emes..."

A person's first reaction must be kindness. Only afterwards should he set off in search of truth. When a beggar asks for a handout, don't wait until you check out his credentials. Give him something right away. When an institution needs financial assistance, don't call for an audit to determine exactly what the problem is. When a young author comes for an approbation, give it to him! That was Rav Moshe's philosophy in life.

When Basya opened the box and saw the boy, concludes Rav Alpert, her first reaction wasn't to assess the situation, to consider who the child's parents were and why he was adrift on the river, to determine if it would be appropriate to rescue him. Her first reaction was kindness. Only then did she stop to consider that this was a Hebrew child.  (From Rabbi Frand on the Parshah, Rabbi Yissocher Frand, Mesorah Publications, pp. 90-92)

We see over and over again how when someone does chessed, he is repaid in kind. Yocheved and Miriam risked their lives to saves the babies of the Jewish women. And Pharaoh's daughter risked her own safety in adopting Moshe, Yocheved's son and Miriam's brother. It is said that when we save one person, we save the whole world. Nothing could be a better illustration than this episode. By saving Moshe, Basya paved the way for the redemption of the entire Jewish nation. Her name means 'daughter of Hashem'. Although she was the daughter of Pharaoh, she acted like the daughter of Hashem. Pharaoh had decreed that all Jewish male infants should die and she saved a Jewish male infant from death. This demonstrates that we can always rise above our circumstances. We can always choose to do chessed. We can defy the cruelty imposed upon us and act in a G-dly way. Basya accepted the offer to find her a Jewish wet nurse, which could have put her under even greater suspicion.

It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens... (Shemos 2:11)
 
It is small wonder that the first thing we read about Moshe, a person who had experienced such chesed, was the son of a woman who had done such chessed and the adopted son of a woman who had demonstrated such chessed, is that he goes out and sees the burdens of his brethren. Having been raised on compassion, it is the first trait that he displays in the narrative. We see Moshe Rabbeinu's compassion over and over again as the leader of the nation. It is this compassion for which he is chosen as leader of the nation to begin with.
If we want our children to be compassionate people, we have to teach them from the time they are very young by modeling this trait ourselves. Chessed has to be one of the pillars of the home if we want it to be one of the building blocks in our children's lives.

Moshe got up and saved them and watered their sheep. (Shemos 2:17) Here, again we see Moshe coming to the rescue of the victims of injustice.   

Moshe was shepherding the sheep of Jethro. (Shemos 3:1)
 
The Midrash relates that Moshe saw the burning bush when he went in search of a lost sheep. He found the sheep drinking and realized that it had gone looking for water. Moshe took pity on the sheep and carried it back to the flock. A shepherd, be it of a flock of sheep or a nation of people, has to show compassion for his charges. Moshe showed such compassion and G-d rewarded him with leadership of the Jewish nation. In his position as leader of the nation, he time and again showed compassion for his flock. Anyone who is in a position of leadership and responsibility has to be able to empathize with those in his care. Power carries with it tremendous accountability. Anyone who cannot feel for the people cannot lead them. That goes equally for the ruler of a nation, a business or a home.
Moshe replied to Hashem "Please my Lord, I am not a man of words," (Shemos 4:10)
 
According to Rashi, Moshe Rabbeinu's hesitation at going to speak to Pharaoh was an expression of his not wanting to assume superiority over Aharon, his older brother. Some people, in their climb to the top, step on other people. We have to make sure that our successes aren't at other people's expense, people who may be more deserving or have more seniority over us. Like with Moshe, if our success is inevitable, we will receive it. It says in Pirkei Avos: "Who is honored? He who honors others." (Ben Zoma 4:1) Honor pursues those who run away from it. When we honor others, we are doing chessed and that in itself is something to aspire to.

Is there not Aharon your brother, the Levite? I know that he will surely speak; moreover, behold, he is going out to meet you and when he sees you he will rejoice in his heart. (Shemos 4:14)
 
Being happy for the good fortune of others requires overcoming one's own natural jealousy and ambition. It is a very important midda and a very lofty one. Aharon could have been resentful of his younger brother’s being chosen to lead the nation, but instead he rejoiced and ran out to greet him. For this he was rewarded with wearing the choshen (the bejeweled breastplate of the High Cohen) and the Urim Vetumim (the names of G-d placed into the breastplate that brought about prophesy by lighting up the letters on the choshen). The choshen with the names of the twelve tribes covered his heart because he was able to feel joy for the success of another and the Urim Vetumim indicated that, to impart news to someone, one has to be willing to impart good news. (Rav Chaim Shmuelevitch on Rashi as heard from Rav Yisrael Moshe Salomon shlita)

The king of Egypt said to them... Go to your own burdens. (Shemos 5:4)

This is how Pharaoh dismisses Moshe and Aharon when they come to request that he free the slaves for three days. If one thinks about it, this is a strange way to dismiss someone - "Mind your own business," maybe, but "Go to your own burdens?"
It is not difficult to understand that Pharaoh was anything but a compassionate man. A ruler who could enslave an entire nation, men, women and children is not exactly the empathetic type. The fact that his entire being was enmeshed in the mindset of 'everyone has to worry about himself and his own problems' is evidenced by this statement. He then increased the workload of the people. Not only did Pharaoh not give the enslaved Jews respite from their burdens, but he increased them. Therefore he was punished midda keneged midda (measure for measure). Each of the ten plagues was somehow related to the suffering he had inflicted on the Jewish nation. We must feel the suffering of others figuratively, so we are not made to feel it in reality.