Vayishlach-True Kindness

One of the purposes for G-D creating the world is in order for people to be nice to each other, which emulates Hashem who is constantly being kind to us by keeping the universe and everything inside it in existence (as well as running the world). Examples of kind deeds between a man and his fellow include making the bride and groom happy at a wedding, comforting a mourner, visiting the sick, burying the dead, and the like (see Ethics of Our Fathers [Pirkay Avos] 1:2 with the Bartenura in detail.)
This week’s parsha states: “Devora the nursemaid of Rivka passed away and she was buried [at the bottom of the mountain] of Beis El under the tree and they called it Alon Bachus” (Brieshis 35:8).The lesson the Ralbag learns from this verse is that it is appropriate for people to do kindness for those who passed on, who had done good for them in their lifetime. For this reason the Torah tells us that Yaakov called the tree which Devora, the nursemaid of Rivka [his mother], was buried under ‘Alon Bechus,’ (literally “tree of crying”), in order to publicize that they had cried over her there. Indeed, Yaakov also set up a monument on the burial plot of [his wife] Rachel in order that her memory would be remembered for a very long time. These are the examples of acts of kindness which will never disappear. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We often define chesed, or an act of kindness, as doing something for someone else which will be beneficial to that person and will make him or her feel good. It is understandable that burying the dead is such an act and one which benefits the person, as otherwise his body would be disgraced. It would be an indignity to the soul of a person to have his body, which served, clothed, and protected him for all the years of his life, to be put to waste. It is therefore a benefit to the soul for the body not to be put to shame, and to be buried properly. But what benefit is there in leaving an everlasting monument to a person, or to name something after them? He or she is dead; hopefully the soul is in a better place, basking in the Presence of Hashem, which the first chapter of Mesilas Yesharim (Path of the Just) describes as ‘the ultimate enjoyment.’ What more does an individual gain by having something erected that ensures a long lasting remembrance in this temporal world?It would seem, then, that the definition of an act of kindness is not just to provide a benefit to another. Rather, it is treating someone else with proper respect. Out of immense gratitude towards his mother’s nursemaid, Yaakov felt he had to honor Devora by naming the place in which she was buried. Kever Rochel is famous; jews from around the world flock to Rachel’s grave to pray to Hashem and beseech her assistance to speak to Hashem on their behalf. But the reason why Yaakov erected a monument over her grave was due to a feeling of immense respect for his wife, which was expressed through the perpetuation of her name, in the form of a monument.

Today many people donate money to name a building or institution after loved ones who have passed on, as a remembrance. It would seem from here that this is an incredible kindness to the dead because of the respect being shown; a kindness that cannot be paid back. Showing respect and honor to others in their lifetime and afterwards is one of the reasons the world exists.

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