On a recent Sunday evening, 135 volunteer cooks gathered at Congregation Machzikei Hadas to prepare meals to benefit Ten Yad, a wonderful local organization that provides support to Jewish families in times of need.
I spoke that evening about the centrality of chesed (kindness) in our lives and I share some of the ideas from that speech here.
What does optimal kindness look like? Many are kind, but optimal kindness is more than just being kind. It’s a fusion of kindness with thought and wisdom. It’s thinking deeply about where my kindness is most needed and how to provide that kindness in the most impactful and effective way possible. Spontaneous kindness is great, but being well thought out in your kindness is reaching a whole new level.
When I think about a model for this in the Torah I go back to the Torah portion of Hayei Sarah, in which Avraham sends his faithful servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Yitzhak. In his search, Eliezer keeps his eye out for one specific trait: someone who is kind. But it is not just about being kind. It is about finding someone whose kindness is fueled by their wisdom. Someone who thinks deeply about kindness and who can respond to needs which are not readily apparent. Someone who is insightful about kindness and who puts in the effort to make sure her acts of kindness are as efficient and as impactful as possible. That was the one trait that Eliezer looked for when looking for a wife for Yitzhak.
Rabbi Joseph Baer Solovetichik is the main character in this wonderful story.
A poor man came to the home of Rabbi Joseph Baer. He said he had come to ask a halakhic question regarding Pesach. He told the rabbi that he could not afford to buy wine, so he wished to know if he could fulfil the obligation to drink the four cups of wine during the seder by drinking four cups of milk.
Rabbi Joseph Baer told him one cannot not fulfil this important mitzvah by drinking milk, and he then gave the man 25 rubles to buy wine.
After the man had gone, the rabbi’s wife approached her husband and asked, “Why, when wine costs two or three rubles, did you give him 25?”
Rabbi Joseph Baer smiled and said, “If he is so poor that he cannot afford wine for the seder, I doubt that he has the money to buy matzo for the seder either. And if he is asking about drinking milk, that means he has no meat or chicken, because he would not be mixing it with milk! I want to give him enough money so that he can buy the proper food that he needs to fully enjoy the holiday of Pesach.”
Kindness is one thing. To be ever-thinking with your kindness, that’s on the next level.
Ten Yad, a volunteer-run organization, has revolutionized kindness in our community by thinking deeply about kindness, and how to be as efficient and as impactful as possible in this mission.
Almost 10 years ago, a group of women from every segment of our Jewish community sat around a dining room table and reflected. They saw that so many people wanted to help their friends and family during challenging times, but they were not as organized as they wanted to be or they could not sustain the support in a meaningful way. As much as they tried to help, their efforts were not as impactful as they would have liked because it wasn’t a coordinated effort among everyone who was trying to help.
This meant that a person or family going through a difficult time might receive a lasagna every night from friends and family for two weeks straight. Or they might have received 12 lasagnas from 12 well-meaning friends and family all delivered to their door on the same night. Or, of course, they might have received no lasagnas at all. And all of this came from a place of kindness.
Along came Ten Yad and changed everything. They created an organized system with coordinators in every area of Ottawa directing an army of volunteers. It is a system that uses a family’s circle of support in the most effective and impactful way possible. Through this system people and families who have a limited or no circle of friends or family in Ottawa are being taken care of and receiving the support they need.
Ten Yad continues to branch out covering a range of support from visiting the sick to providing kosher pantries in the Ottawa hospitals, constantly acting as a paradigm of what that fusion of kindness and wisdom looks like. This is high-level kindness at its finest, and all of us in Ottawa are blessed to have them.