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Not So Random Acts of Kindness

Collectively, the commands in Parashat Ki Teitzei (Deut. 21:10–25:19) reflect God’s desire that we simply look out for one another with loving kindness. These acts can be something as simple as returning a lost item or helping locate and return a lost animal. The reader, after seeing the command in this Torah portion that directs parents of a wayward, defiant son to be taken before the elders for trial and if found guilty, the son is put to death. This is kindness? In one respect, it would stop the damage allegedly inflicted on the innocent by such a person. His senseless acts would cease. However, there is no record of this punishment ever being carried out due to complex and difficult criteria that is almost impossible to meet. In addition, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 88) tells us that the parents must testify against their wayward son and if only one parent forgives their son, he is set free. According to the Sages, all of the aforementioned is taught to underscore how vital parenting is and serves as a sober warning on teaching our children to act with kindness.

Our kindness should extend to the lowliest of creatures. This principle is represented in the command to chase a mother bird away before taking her eggs. At first blush, it may seem cruel but, science has found that a mother bird isn't disturbed all that much by the loss of her eggs and will sometimes abandon them for a variety of reasons. It's only after the chicks hatch that the mother becomes extremely protective. The Medieval commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra states that running the mother away from the nest, before taking her eggs or offspring is commanded because killing and eating the mother bird along with her eggs, or hatchlings is definitely cruel.

Teaching our children kindness to animals instills in them a sensitivity to all of God’s creatures. In an earlier chapter of Deuteronomy we read, “And I will give grass in your field for your livestock”—and only thereafter “you will eat and be sated.” Here we see that our pets should be fed before we sit down for a meal. The story is told that Avraham Avnu heard directly from Noach that he did not eat his daily meal until the animals on the Tevah (ark) were fed. From this, Avraham reasoned that, if Noach could show such kindness to animals, how much more compassionate we should be to one another. Avraham set out to treat the strangers who arrived at this tent, with kindness and hospitality. The tent was open to all four directions so that he could run out and see to the needs of any visitor. His care for others stood in start contrast to the nearby communities of Sodom and Gomorrah who took delight in mistreating strangers who made the mistake of visiting their cities. We learn from this that the Sodomites were not destroyed for sexual immorality but because of their cunning cruelty.

Ki Teitzei concludes with HaShem's command that His nation, "Blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!" This commandment if often construed to be a call to arms and literally wipe out the people of Amalek. It cannot literally mean to obliterate a people called Amalek because (a) in our day there is no nation or tribe specifically identifiable as Amalek and (b) the verse only commands that the memory of Amelek should be blotted out.

That can only be achieved when all of us who love God and His Torah and want to wipe out the philosophy of Amalek that denies the unique mission of the Jews to be a light to all nations. God is calling on Israel to teach us the service of the heart, actualizing those principles into compassion and kindness. The name of Amalek will be forgotten! Perkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) states that the world exists on three pillars: Torah, Service and Acts of Loving Kindness. When we see not so random acts of kindness beautifully rampant in Israel and when we witness service of the heart in all its streets, no one will remember the cruelty of Amalek.

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