It had been a long time since he had spoken with his father. Too long. A few months back, they had gotten into a heated disagreement, and things hadn’t been the same since. It wasn’t always like this, of course. Growing up, his father had been his role model, his hero. He was an only child, and his father had been his teacher, his mentor, and in many ways, his best friend. Many of his greatest memories featured time spent bonding with his father. And now, he couldn’t help but wonder how they had gotten to this point. They never fought, ever. “That’s it,” he thought, “I’m going to call him; I’m going to set things straight and schedule a special breakfast for next week.” He was about to pick up the phone when he looked at his schedule. He was pretty booked for the next few days, so it made more sense to call to schedule for next week. He also had a meeting in 15 minutes, so their conversation would be curtailed if he called now. He phoned his secretary:
“Hi, Sharon. Can you please remind me to call my father next Monday morning?”
“Sure thing,” she said.
He smiled to himself, proud that he was being the bigger person, and went back to preparing for his meeting.
That Sunday he got the call. He almost dropped the phone. His father had been in an accident and had passed away on the spot. He couldn’t control himself; he burst out in tears – not only because he had lost his father, but because he never had the chance to tell him how much he loved him, how important he was to him, and how much he treasured their relationship. If only he had made that call, if only he had been more spontaneous. Now, it was too late. The opportunity was lost forever.
How Do You Start Your Day?
When you wake up in the morning, how do you start your day? Many people immediately take out their phones, look at their messages, and are bombarded by a rush of incoming data. But in doing so, we begin our day in a reactive state, allowing external stimuli to become the foundation of our day. With that starting point, it is all too easy for the entire day to become one long reactive experience.
Highly successful people do not immediately look at their phones upon waking. Rather, they engage in mindful, productive tasks upon waking, generating proactive momentum to their morning. This allows them to choose what to think about and what to focus on, enabling them to accomplish their goals throughout the day. Instead of allowing external stimuli to guide their waking thoughts, they replace it with mindful, guided, and goal-oriented thinking. Davening in the morning accomplishes this exact objective, providing us with a structured way to begin our day with mindfulness and directed thought.
During the Chanukas HaMishkan, the inauguration of the Tabernacle, the N’siim (princes) of each Sheivet contributed spectacular gifts toward the Mishkan (BaMidbar, perek 7). Chazal explain that these donations were intended to be a tikkun (rectification) for their previous sin (See Rashi, BaMidbar 7:3; Sifrei, Naso 1:150). Earlier in the Torah, the N’siim are criticized for their inappropriate approach regarding their donations toward the building of the Mishkan (Rashi, Sh’mos 35:27). They delayed in donating gifts for the Mishkan, and in the interim the Jewish People donated everything needed for the Mishkan, leaving the N’siim with nothing to give.
However, it is important to note that their intentions were pure. They intended to wait and see what was still needed in the Mishkan after the rest of klal Yisrael had finished donating, and they would then donate whatever was still needed, filling in the rest. The N’siim assumed that if everybody donated simultaneously, there would be many overlapping gifts, while other essential things might be left out completely. The N’siim wanted to fill in the gaps, ensuring that the donation process was completed properly.
However, when the giving stopped and the dust settled, there was nothing left to give. Klal Yisrael had surpassed all expectations, donating every single required item and even exceeding the required quotas (Sh’mos 36:5). The N’siim, due to their delay, lost out on their chance to contribute toward the Mishkan.
The N’siim are criticized for their lack of alacrity in donating to the Mishkan, and it is apparent that they realized their mistake, as they tried to rectify it by contributing elaborate gifts during the Chanukas HaMishkan. However, we must ask what the N’siim did that was so improper. After all, their calculation seems sound, if not ideal. Why donate something that has already been given? Isn’t it worthwhile to ensure that your gift will be useful? Why then do we view their actions, or lack thereof, in such a negative light? Furthermore, how do the gifts of the N’siim in Parshas Naso rectify their mistake? In order to understand this episode, we must first understand the nature and meaning of chesed, loosely translated as kindness and giving.
The spiritual concept of chesed is the ability to expand beyond one’s limited self and contribute toward others. As the pasuk in T’hilim says, “Olam chesed yibaneh – The world was built through chesed” (T’hilim 89:3). Hashem created this world as an act of expansion and pure kindness, with the goal of giving to each and every one of us. Thus, when we give to others, we emulate Hashem. (For more on the mitzvah to emulate Hashem, see Shabbos 133b and Sh’mos 15:2: “Mah Hu rachum af atah rachum – Just as Hashem is merciful, so should you be merciful.” See also Sotah 14a.)
Levels of Chesed
Within the basic character trait of chesed, there are varying levels and degrees. For example, if a person is in financial need, there are several different ways one can help him. The most obvious form of chesed is giving money, but this is far from ideal. Short-term monetary gifts do not usually solve a long-term struggle with poverty; the person will therefore remain dependent and poor. Being dependent on another is shameful, and we do not want recipients of charity to feel dependent and incapable of earning their own sustenance. A far better option is to extend a loan, as this enables a person to retain independence and dignity. However, the greatest level of chesed is helping a person get a job or develop a means of sustaining himself, as this provides both sustenance and genuine independence. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This principle is at the root of a phrase we read every day in Sh’moneh Esrei. In the first brachah, we describe Hashem as “gomel chasadim – the One Who bestows kindness.” However, the Hebrew word “gomel” literally means to wean, as in when a mother stops breastfeeding her child. This seems like the antithesis of chesed, as it is an act of cutting someone off and the cessation of giving. However, there is an intrinsic connection between chesed and weaning: the greatest chesed is to give someone independence, to wean him off of reliance and dependency, allowing him to spread his own wings. This is the chesed Hashem does for us: He gives us the independent ability to choose, and in doing so, He gives us the ability to earn our own reward. We are not given our reward for free; we earn it through our choices, our internal moral victories, and our constant existential struggle to grow.
This is often the biggest challenge of parents: letting their child go, letting him or her blossom and flourish. Only once children are given independence can they finally learn to become themselves. This is also why the greatest teachers don’t create dependent students; they create independent thinkers, students who continue to grow and flourish long after they leave their teacher’s classroom. This is the deeper meaning behind the unusual language of the mishnah in Avos, which instructs us: “Haamidu talmidim harbei,” which is usually understood to mean “teach many students” (Avos 1:2). However, it literally means “stand up” many students. In other words, great teachers help their students develop their own legs to stand on. In our next article, we will delve deeper into this fascinating topic of chesed and try to clarify the underlying mistake that the N’siim made.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.
 - However, there was still one gift left for the N’siim to give: the Avnei Milu’im, the 12 beautiful stones that were placed within the Choshen (breastplate worn by the Kohen Gadol).
 - Chesed is expansion and outflow. G’vurah, or din, is restriction, limitation, and boundaries. Tiferes is the perfect harmony and balance of these two attributes.
 - Not only was the original act of creation an act of kindness, but the world is continuously sustained by Hashem’s active will, an act of continuous giving.
 - The ideal teacher does not create dependency but rather stands the students on their own feet as independent and strong thinkers. Thus, even when the teacher is gone, they can continue learning, growing, and thinking – and ultimately teach students of their own. See also Tosfos Yom Tov, Avos 1:2.