Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pure Hesed

Do you have a favorite pasuk ? I will admit I do. And its found in this week's parsha. My favorite is " vayas Hashem Elokim l'adom u'lishto katnot or vayalbeshem"...." And Hashem made for Adam and his wife clothes of skin and He dressed them".

The verse is found after Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. Confronted and punished by G-d they stand now fearful and ashamed. G-d in His love for them recognizes their terrible circumstances. Yes they have sinned and sinned badly. Yet they are His children. They are the future parents of humanity.He feels their suffering. He makes for them beautiful clothes. Still more, G-d Himself serves as their valet and put these beautiful clothes on them. Through His love they are restored.

The Talmud teaches in the name of Rabbi Simlai " Great are the acts of loving-kindness such that the Torah begins with loving-kindness and ends with loving-kindness." It begins with loving-kindness when it tells us how Hashem clothes Adam and Eve after the sin. And it ends with loving-kindness when we are told Hashem buries Moshe after he ascends the mountain of Nebo to die.

Beautiful indeed. Yet one could wonder, why does Rabbi Simlai claim the first kindness of the Torah is the one reflected in the verse I referred to as my favorite. Were there not prior kindnesses to the clothing of Adam and Eve. After all creation itself was a hesed. And so was giving Eve to Adam a hesed when he was alone in the Garden without a help-mate.

And there is another curious dynamic here. The sages of the Talmud wondered where did these skins Hashem used to clothe them come from. There was no death in the Garden, neither animal nor human. Rabbi Elazar gives an unusual answer. He says the skins were from the snake, the very same snake that tempted them into sin. The snake shed his skin and from it Hashem made their clothes.

We already learned this was an incredible act of hesed. What kindness would it be to wear the clothes from the skins of the snake that was the source of their demise?

In order to better understand what real hesed is we would do well to understand human need.
Many of us are familiar with the quote "You can't love someone else unless you love your self".
It makes sense. Real love comes from a sense of fullness. It does not come from a void. (We have already discussed some on this in the blog "Mature and Immature Love".) If I do not love myself inevitably my love for you will be tainted. Loving you will, at a deeper level, be part of my struggle to find love for myself rather than be about you. If I do not love myself I have no (pure) love to give another.

But while that's a familiar idea, even if sophisticated, there is another part to the quote not as well known. " I cannot love myself unless someone else loves me". And why is that true. Well think about it. I know I have many shortcomings. There is much about myself that I do not like.
With all my flaws how can I love myself. On the contrary it may be more reasonable to hate myself for all I lack. Indeed people who do not experience the love of another often have very ambivalent feelings towards themselves.

When someone else loves me, with my flaws, knowing that I am compromised, they show me that I am lovable. Their love for me helps me to love myself. Of course that only works to the extent the other knows me. If I hide my shortcoming from them, if s/he loves me because they think I am better than I am and don't know my flaws, their love for me has no real power to cause me to love myself. Sure they provide a nice feeling, but deep inside I think they only love me because they think I am better than I am. If they really knew me they would reject me.

It is only when we risk letting ourselves be known, and yes rejected, that the love we receive can bring us to feel the elusive gift of genuine self-love. And it is only when we have been vulnerable and received that love in return that we can come to bestow true love on another.

Hashem did many kindnesses for Adam and Chava prior to the sin. But in each case the hesed, while a gift, provided for a physical need or comfort, but did not touch the core of their being.
It was only after the sin, when Adam and Chava were painfully aware of their inadequacies and struggled to love themselves that the gift of Hakadosh Baruch Hu became an ultimate manifestation of hesed, one that actually was experienced as an expression of love. Here in the midst of their shame and fear Hashem cared for them not only to make beautiful clothes for them but to dress them, Himself. He said thereby "I love you", in deeds so powerful, not because He did not know their flaw but with their flaw.

That's the message Rabbi Elazar wanted to impart when he said Hashem made the clothes from the skins of the very snake that brought about their sin. When Hashem gave them clothes from that snake its as if He said " I am not loving you because I am pretending you did not sin, that you are better than you are. No, I know you, I know your sin. The clothes I am making say loud and clear you indeed have failed. And yet I love you, with your failings!"

Truth be told the story of Hashem's hesed with Moshe was similar. Moshe was informed he had to die. He was not to enter the Holy Land. Little doubt he too felt the weight of his inadequacy when he left the camp alone to climb Mt Nebo there to await his death. Did he feel the shame of that failure? Did he ache for what might have been? It could not have been easy. Yet precisely here, in his time of feeling inadequate, Hashem shows Moshe a special love. It is when Moshe feels least good about himself Hashem says "I will bury you...not leave it to others...for indeed I love you".

In loving Adam and Chava, they could come to love themselves, with their limitations, even after their terrible sin. And indeed they could go on, as we read in the next verses to bear children and become the parents to humanity. They could love their children because indeed they had been loved and loved themselves.

The lessons we can glean from the story are personal to each of us. For some of us, is it not time we risked letting ourselves be known so we might yet know real love from another...and in turn come to love ourselves. For others of us, is it not time we loved the ones who matter to us in the image of the love of The Holy One Blessed Be He, love them not by trying to pretend they are better than they are or by trying to delete their shortcomings, but by accepting them as they are?

Real hesed is not about giving money or doing a favor, though that too is very important. Real hesed is making someone who feels inadequate and lacking feel loved. The particular gift is but a manifestation of that love. And its that love which provides the deepest healing and yeshua.

May all the days of our lives be full of hesed in its most beautiful expression. Indeed as the Psalmist says "Olam Hesed Yebane" "The world is founded on loving-kindness."

I would greatly appreciate if you would include in your tefilot a prayer for Odena bat Laya who will have serious surgery on her spine next week. Thank you for your hesed to me, Odena and her family.

Shabbat Shalom

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