Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Chessed: Life Assurance That Offers Life Insurance
It is commonplace in the Torah for the same idea to be presented twice. Each time, it behooves us to analyze and understand the need for the particular repetition. Hashem promised Avraham at the Bris ben Habisarim (Breishis 15:13, 14), "Know with certainty that your descendents will be strangers in a foreign land. They will enslave and oppress them for 400 years. The nation they shall serve I will judge. Afterwards, they, the oppressed, will leave with great wealth."
Thus it is understandable that preceding the last and final plague, Hashem instructs Moshe (Shmos 11:2-3), "Please speak to the people, that each man request of his fellow, and each woman of her fellow, silver vessels and gold vessels. Hashem granted the people favor in the eyes of Egypt." What, at first glance, is strange in the use of the word 'please'? When all the later preparations are communicated to the people, including the details of the first Pesach offering, at no point is the word "please" used. Moreover, why does the Torah repeat (Chapter 1235-36), "The children of Israel carried out the word of Moses, they requested from the Egyptians silver vessels, gold vessels, and garments. Hashem gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and they granted their request, and they emptied Egypt. Why is the first mention not sufficient to inform us that they left Egypt with great wealth. In addition, Rashi, in his commentary on the second verse (12:35) adds to our understanding of the text by stating that Bnei Yisroel carried out the word of Moshe , and refers us back to the earlier verse, of having complied with Moshe's directive of 'each man requesting of his fellow.'
The Vilna Gaon zt"l (as found in Kol Eliyahu) presents a magnificent understanding of the above cited verses. Initially he asks, as noted above, why the use of 'please'? Secondly, our understanding of the first directive as referring to the Jewish nation requesting of the Egyptians silver and gold cannot be correct. He notes that the Torah uses the words "me'ace re'ehu" ("from his fellows") and proves from the Talmud (Bava Kamma 36b) that "re'ehu" is used to describe one Jew to another, and not a Jew to a non-Jew. Thus is Shemos (21:35), "if one man's ox should strike his fellow's ox", the ensuing laws apply only if both litigants are Jewish, and not if a Jew's ox strikes the ox of an Egyptian. Thus the Vilan Gaon concludes that the first request was for Jews to ask and respond generously one to another. It is for this reason that "please" is used, as this was something that was not necessarily understood as part of the departure preparations. The Gaon is teaching that in order to find favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, they had to do chessed (kindness) to one another. Thus the above cited teaching of Rashi is most understandable. Prior to the last and final plague, the Jewish people established g'machs, initiated acts of kindness one to another (12: 2-3). After the killing of the first born, the former slaves being hastened out of Egypt, having demonstrated generosity one to another, the Egyptian people responded in kind, and they too forced valuables upon the Jews (12:35-36) (see Ohr Hachaim).
We generally look upon the Jewish people as passive in their liberation, except for the Pesach ritual. The later together with a circumcision was a spiritual connection with Hashem. The insight of the Gaon is that a social pre-requisite was also necessary, the extending of chessed one to another.
The notion is further developed by the Chofetz Chaim zt"l in his commentary on the Torah, on commenting Shemos (15:13), "with your kindness you guided this people that you redeemed". At first glance the words "your kindness" is referring to the kindness of Hashem. The Chofetz Chaim cites from the Tane D'bei Eliyahu (ch. 23) that already in Egypt the fledgling Jewish nation banded together and entered into a covenant with each other to do chessed. They saw as the servitude and persecution was intensifying that their only recourse was to emulate Hashem and exercise chessed. This concern for the needs of the next one, especially at a time when one would naturally focus on their pain, their needs, their suffering, facilitated their redemption and deliverance from Egypt.
The Chofetz Chaim buttresses this idea with the verse from Isiah (54:10) "for the mountains may be moved and the hills may falter, but my kindness shall not be removed from you and my covenant of peace shall not falter". The "mountains" refer to the zechus avos (merit of our forefathers). The "hills" is a reference to the zechus emahos (the righteousness of our matriarchs). Though the above may no longer sustain our people, but your kindness, the prophet promises, will permanently endure.
It is thus understandable that when the students of Rav Elazar (Sanhedrin 98b) asked him, what may they do to be spared the pains of the coming of moshiach? He responded "involve yourselves in Torah and g'milus chassadim". Chessed brings redemption.
It is fascinating to note an additional understanding of "olom chessed yiboneh" (Tehillim 89:3) "the world is sustained by kindness". When a Jew partakes of fruits or vegetables, fish or meat, or any drink other wine he recites the b'racha achrona (after blessing) of Borei Nefashos. The unique composition of this blessing is that the Jew thanks Hashem for "having created numerous living things with their deficiencies". We acknowledge that Hashem did not man self-sufficient, thus building into the very core and fabric of society the need for one to help another.
In this most difficult time for Am Yisrael, what can you do? Call a shut-in visit a senior citizen residence and spend half am hour with a lonely soul. Relieve a parent of an autistic child for an hour on Shabbos, giving them some rest as well. Invite the not-yet observant Jewish families down the block to your Shabbos table. The Vilna Gaon and Chfetz Chaim assure us that your unique acts of kindness today assure tomorrow's redemption.