I recall that during my time in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Henoch Liebowitz zt”l, often said that if a person comes to you who is a beginner (ie he does not have a lot of Torah learning experience), you should start them off with Chumash and Rashi from the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Lech Licha, because it talks about chesed [kindness], and anyone can relate to that.
The Torah portion begins: “And Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you’” (Breishis 12:1-3).
The first Rashi on the Torah portion says: “לך לך” – go for yourself — for your own benefit, for your own good: there I will make of you a great nation whereas here you will not merit the privilege of having children (Rosh Hashanah 16b). Furthermore, I shall make known your character throughout the world (Medrash Tanchuma, Lech Lecha 3). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
In summary, Rashi in the next couple of pesukim discusses how Hashem guarantees family, fortune, and fame to Avraham even though traveling naturally decreases the chances of having children, stunts one’s fortune, and causes loss of fame. Not only was he guaranteed that the opposite would happen upon travelling to an unknown land but Avraham was guaranteed quadruple the reward for following Hashem blindly. He was also granted the gift of giving out blessings to others, which only Hashem was able to do up to that point.
At first glance these pesukim and Rashis seem to teach a better lesson in emunah and bitachon [having faith and trust in Hashem] than the lesson of chesed. Avraham had to make a tremendous leap of faith in order to leave his home town permanently to go to a far-off place, leaving his family. Even if he were guaranteed great reward who said it will come about? Avraham must therefore have had tremendous faith in Hashem; where then is the lesson of chesed in these pesukim?
However, when delving more into the subject, one can find the answer, and it is beautiful! One example, at the end of the first Rashi, is when he quotes a Medrash Tanchuma which says that Hashem guaranteed Avraham that his character would be known throughout the world if he followed Him to the unnamed place.
The Medrash Tanchuma elaborates: “’Hashem said to Avraham go for you,’ this is what the pasuk means when the pasuk writes, ‘Hearken, daughter, and see, and incline your ear, and forget your people and your father’s house’ (Tehilim 45:11). ‘Hearken, daughter, and see, and incline your ear,’ refers to Avraham, and ‘and forget your people and your father’s house,’ refers to idolatry… ‘And the King shall desire your beauty’ (Tehilim 45:12), this refers to the King Of Kings He desires his beauty in this world and the Next World, ‘for He is your Lord, and prostrate yourself to Him’ (the end of this pasuk 12).Rebbe Avin said, this can be compared to a glass flask of oil mixed with fragrance lying in a cemetery and no one knows of its smell. What did they do? They took it and brought it from place to place and showed off the smell to the world. So to Avraham lived amongst idolaters and Hashem told him ‘go for you from your land and I will make your essence known throughout the world.’”
The Etz Yosef explains in the medrish that Hashem desired that Avraham would look nice in the world, in order to publicize his honor and glory in this world and the next. Since Hashem is his master, and since the servant is so great, so much more the greatness of his master; this will become known and His honor will be spread throughout the nations. Indeed, we know this actually happened and His honor was sanctified on High as well. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Based on this, the kindness being taught in these pesukim by Rashi is understandable. Imagine if a corporation gave its employees fancy clothes, delicious but healthy food, and a gym, including a pool for down time and exercise in order that their employees will look and feel their best in front of customers. Would you call that a chesed, a kindness, that the employer is giving the employees? Why not? Granted it is for the sake of enhancing the corporation, but it still makes the employees feel good and happy. By making the employees look good, it in turn makes the corporation look good in the public eye, which in turn increases revenue and value. Everyone wins!
All the more so with the Master of the World, King of Kings, Blessed be He, the Eternal one, who has no needs and only does for the sake of good. He wants his employees to look and feel their very best so that they will be a perfect example for the rest of humanity, and the world will realize it is worth emulating and following such pristine examples. What that means is that Hashem was in fact acting with incredible kindness towards Avraham by giving him the opportunity to represent Him and to show off his true colors.
This message does not only hold true for Avraham, but for all of his descendants as well. Hashem gave us the opportunity to be a “Light onto all other nations” and promised us an endless flow of blessing if we completely walk in His ways. What a chesed Hashem is doing for us. No wonder this is the first Torah learning that should be done with a beginner, a lesson in how much Hashem loves us and wants to act kindly with us by making us look and feel good through performing His mitzvos.