Rabbi's Message, Rabbi Alvin Kass, June 2014

Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD

Revisiting Kindness

To affirm that loving kindness is important in life may sound like such a truism that I am embarrassed to say it. Yet, sometimes it is the things in life with which we are familiar that we frequently overlook or even forget. We would all do well to pay attention to the fundamental verities in the absence of which life is robbed of its meaning.

Despite widespread recognition of its significance, kindness is an increasingly difficult commodity to find. Many people are literally starved for it. A physician recently pointed out that ninety percent of the mental illness he had treated could be prevented or cured by ordinary kindness which almost always was not forthcoming. What a sad commentary about our society! Multitudes are suffering from acute deprivation of this simple quality of kindness; yet, so few in our midst have the concern, the sensitivity, and the compassion to speak the gentle word or perform the caring act which would uplift these depressed and despairing spirits.

Acts of kindness are a mode of communication, which even the beasts of the field can comprehend and a language that even the mute can speak. Gestures of kindness have the capacity to sustain the world and keep it alive. For our universe is not kept going by shrewd people. Clever and devious people can rationalize and justify (at least to themselves) the basest of sins. They can engineer arms races; provoke conflicts between nations; and generate hatred where none presently exists. On the other hand, it is kind people who dissolve misunderstanding, remove prejudice, promote virtue and stimulate an atmosphere of brotherly tranquility and peace.

If civilization signifies anything, it ought to mean cultivating the quality of kindness. No matter how many academic degrees a person may possess or how many diplomas may adorn his walls, he is uneducated if he lacks kindness. Indeed, even if one’s formal schooling is meager and his book learning minimal, he ought to be regarded as fully and truly cultivated if he has mastered the lesson of kindness.

Thousands of years ago when Eliezer, the faithful servant of Abraham, sought a wife for Isaac, he knew that the most important virtue that a young man’s spouse should possess was kindness. What else, after all, was his plan but a test for kindness. Hence, he beseeched the Almighty: “Behold when I stand by the fountain of water let it come to pass that the maiden to whom I shall say, ‘Let down thy pitcher that I may drink’ and she shall say ‘Drink, and I will give thy camels also,’ let the same be the one whom Thou has appointed for Thy servant Isaac.” (Gen. 24:13-14) When Rebecca manifested hospitality toward the stranger and compassion toward the animals, Eliezer was positive that she possessed the attribute of kindness and that the projected match was divinely sanctioned. If more young men and young women would seek out partners in life whose primary quality was kindness rather than the other criteria which are currently in vogue, the number of divorces would drop sharply.

Our reputation in life ought to be based not on how much money we have, how much power we possess, our social status, or our IQ; but rather on the measure of our goodness, kindness and generosity. None of us may achieve fame and fortune but we still have lived magnificent lives if we brought light and cheer to those fellow human beings whose lives touched our own.

Have a great summer!

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