The Karma of Kindness


Sarah Pachter

Jumping online for a quick check of my email, I had every intention of clicking directly into my inbox when I became distracted by the homepage’s catchy articles. Suddenly, I just had to know where the boa shark gives birth. I lost track of time reading other pseudo-news articles, and before I knew it, I was behind schedule.

Yahoo – and other such websites – have this uncanny ability to distract us from our original intentions by placing various headlines in the center of the screen to catch the reader’s attention. The articles are sometimes news-related, but are more often inconsequential. Despite being strapped for time, I regularly found myself clicking on the headlines simply because of the way they were packaged with their images.

So, I switched to Gmail, but mused to myself, If only we had Yahoo working to advertise for Torah. If Torah could be made more interesting and eye catching, more Jews would be learning about their heritage than “What Size Does Jessica Simpson Fit Into?”

Immediately, I thought of my upcoming lecture featuring the matriarchs, Rachel and Leah, and wondered, How would Yahoo package their story?

Consider the following headline: “At a Destination Wedding, One Man Marries…The Wrong Woman!”

The picture beneath the headline would show a handsome man, completely in shock, with a strange-looking woman, grinning ear to ear, by his side.

Here is how the article would read:

Yaakov worked seven years to marry the love of his life, Rachel. The blissful couple had a feeling that Rachel’s father, Lavan, would try to switch Rachel for her sister, Leah, on the wedding night. Therefore, Yaakov and Rachel developed signs so that Yaakov could confirm that it was indeed Rachel under the veil on their wedding night.

On the night of the wedding, Lavan did switch the sisters. Rachel, on her wedding day, watched from the back of the crowd while her sister wore her dress, and was about to marry her man. Most women in Rachel’s shoes would think, “Thank G-d I have signs – my fiancé and I are one step ahead. My dad is trying to trick us, but does not realize that we made a plan to ensure that he fails.” Rachel, however, pulled her sister aside, and gave her the signs so that she could marry Yaakov.  

Why would she foil her own plan?

Most people view their siblings as people separate from themselves. We love our sisters – and brothers – but we are different people. Rachel viewed her sister as an extension of herself. She felt her pain and joy like it was her own. Rachel could not bring herself to embarrass her sister, Leah. She therefore gave her the signs out of pure compassion.

When the Jews were exiled from Israel because of idolatry, the souls of Avraham, Yitzchak, Moshe, and Rachel came to G-d to plead on behalf of the Jewish people. Each ancestor beseeched the Almighty, saying that in the merit of their actions, the Jewish people should be allowed back into Israel. When it was Rachel’s turn, she begged: “G-d, I swallowed my jealousy and gave my sister the signs so as not to embarrass her. If I, a mere mortal of flesh and blood, can bury my jealousy, then surely You, Hashem, the King of all kings, can find compassion. Bury your jealousy of idolatry, and find forgiveness for the Jewish nation.”

G-d listened only to Rachel’s plea and allowed us to re-enter Israel.

The patriarchs spent years accomplishing and overcoming their own trials. After all, Moshe spent his life leading the Jews. Yaakov spent twenty-two years slaving to get married. Rachel displays one moment of compassion, and G-d is swayed?

One commentary suggests that the reason G-d listened to Rachel was because the patriarchs were commanded in their actions, while Rachel took this choice upon herself. Although not obligated to give her sister the signs, she went above and beyond by doing so.

Her single act of compassion changed the lives of every Jew today. We do not really know what our own acts of compassion can lead to. When faced with someone who needs us to act, we may feel exhausted, or even taken advantage of, but if we go the extra mile, especially when we do not have to, it can have lasting effects generations later.

I saw an article over five years ago in Mishpacha Magazine that depicts this concept perfectly.

Long ago, Yaakov, an electrician in Brooklyn, picked up the local Jewish paper when an article caught his eye: “Electrician in Brooklyn Dies Suddenly.” He was compelled to read more, and found that this electrician was actually a neighbor living in the building next door. His survivors included a wife and four children. Their pain felt palatable to Yaakov as he thought to himself, This could have been me. Out of pure compassion, he felt an urge to pay a visit to the family, despite the fact that he had not been to a shiva in years.

He uncomfortably entered the room to see people solemnly offering condolences. This woman now had a family of four children to support, with no income. The widow was leaning back on a low chair, lifeless, like a puppet. He saw a young child sitting on the floor, crying that they had no food. Yaakov, the electrician, walked into the tiny, decrepit kitchen, opened up the fridge, and saw that it was completely bare. He quietly left the home, but returned that night to stock their fridge. He handed the widow his number and bent down while saying, “I myself am an electrician. If there is anything I can do to help you, please do not hesitate to call.”

Desperate, she called him in the following days to ask if he would purchase her late husband’s tools. Yaakov organized them, added some of his own tools into the mix, and sold every last item for her. He called upon all of the connections he had, and raised over $3,000 for this woman – a hefty sum in that time. He continued to stock their fridge quite frequently, and without being asked.

Fast forward to many years later in Israel. Ruthy, a pregnant woman, is sitting at a Shabbos table in Jerusalem. She recounted to all that she was worried about losing her job. She worked in a factory, and was struggling to make ends meet.

“During these difficult economic times, I don’t know if they will keep me on – especially because I am pregnant. If I take maternity leave, they won’t have me back, but I am the sole support of my family. My husband lost his job, and my brother, also jobless, lives with us.”

Everyone present, including the host, a prominent businessman, shook their heads with sympathy.

The conversation continued, and the wealthy businessman asked where Ruthy was from.

He then proceeded to bombard her with detailed questions about her family name, her father’s name and profession, and so on. Shortly afterwards, the businessman got up and briskly turned to walk out of the room.

Ruthy didn’t understand what she had said to offend him. She had merely related where her family lived in Brooklyn. She also shared that her grandfather, Yaakov, was a well-known electrician in the neighborhood.

The wealthy man came back from the other room with visible tears in his eyes. “Your grandfather, Yaakov, is a righteous man.” He then proceeded to share that his father, also an electrician, had passed when he was a young boy. He remembered crying on the floor, starving as a child.

“Your grandfather asked me what was wrong. He came back with food to fill the entire refrigerator, on many occasions. He did kindness after kindness for my mother and our entire family. It would be my honor and responsibility to help yours. You, your husband, and brother all have secure jobs in my company. Come by on Monday morning, and I will have a position waiting for you all.”

We are not always privy to the effects our actions will have years and even generations later. Perhaps Rachel the matriarch had a suspicion that her action would have extensive ramifications, and maybe this is what gave her the strength to give up everything she’s dreamed of for one act of kindness.

We find ourselves drawn in quite easily by the media’s headlines, yet most of them trumpet events that seem enormous today, but which will be forgotten tomorrow. Spiritual efforts often move in the opposite direction: actions which seem small today may seem enormous when we learn their true measure after 120 years.

Let us all be cognizant of this phenomenon and make extra efforts in Torah, mitzvah performance, and chessed. The effects will be eternal!