Kindness is the point
One of the more fickle parts of life is friendship. From our youngest years, we tend to think of friends as a forever type of thing. As we age, we begin to realize that most friendships tend to operate temporarily within a given context. Then, as we enter adulthood, we realize there are still shifts and transitions in friendship even as the circle gets smaller.
Yet, there are friends that stand the test of time. It not always linear of course. Some friends flit away for any number of reasons and then return. As I have entered into parenting and this next stage in my life, I have been thinking a lot about friendship and especially now, what makes a good friend? The answer is subjective and context driven and can also be drawn from the start of our parshah this week.
Last week, we read the first iteration of the 10 commandments. It was an overwhelmingly powerful moment. So at first glance, to come to a portion that spends much of its time on torts, damages, and laws of servitude feels like a bit of a letdown. That is, until you dig a little deeper.
The portion this week begins:
וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּשִׂ֖ים לִפְנֵיהֶֽם׃
And these are the rules that you shall set before them:
It’s a fairly innocuous start but much can be gleaned from that little vav that contains the word “and.” On this tiny letter, the commentator Rashi says the following:
Wherever אלה, “these are”, is used it cuts off the preceding section from that which it introduces; where, however, ואלה “and these” is used it adds something to the former subject (i. e. forms a continuation of it). So also here: “And these are the judgments (i. e. these, also)”: What is the case with the former commandments (the עשרת הדברות)? They were given at Sinai! So these, too, were given at Sinai!
That “and” serves a huge purpose here. Normally when the word “these” is introduced, it cuts off that which came before it. But when “and these” is used, it serves as a continuation. In other words, don’t think that just because the moment of the 10 commandments was full of pomp and circumstance that this little list of rules that govern our daily relationships pales in comparison. In fact, they are just as important.
It’s a powerful reminder that it’s not just about the grand gestures and moments in life. What fuels most of our daily goings on are the little moments of connectivity. On top of this, you'll note that the verse indicates that these laws are to be “set before them.”
The aforementioned Rashi imagines this as a set table to provide people the framework of rules and regulations by which they can order their lives. The Tiferet Shlomo, the first Rebbe of Radomsk takes it in a different direction:
The main purpose of these ordinances is pure kindness. God wanted to give merit to the Jewish people; to give them a path and a means to draw down kindness into the world by fulfilling these laws. In addition to the ethical value, these laws, when fulfilled in this world, arouse God's infinite kindness and bestows kindness and goodness to the Jewish people.
Sometimes we think of laws, ordinances, and rules as solely focused on the ethical and moral realm. Follow this. Don’t do that. This is permitted. That is forbidden. The Tiferet Shlomo argues that beyond that, all of this stuff is supposed to be directing us to live a life filled with חסדים גמורים-complete kindnesses. When we have these rules, kindness should be at the forefront of our minds, not just fulfilling a check list.
That gets me back to friendships. Far and away, the friendships that have felt most nourishing are the ones where folks are there in little ways. Sure, the trips and the weddings are great but it’s the random check ins, the surprise letter, and the tiny acts of kindness that make friendships run.
Adam Grant, one of my favorite modern writers and thinkers wrote the following recently that captures this:
How quickly someone answers you is rarely a sign of how much they care about you. Delayed replies to emails, texts, and calls are often symptoms of being overwhelmed. Unless it's urgent, the true test of a relationship isn't the speed of response. It's the quality of attention.
That’s what it’s about. Sure, there are 10 commandments in relationships, those big, showy, and celebratory moments. But it’s the mishpatim, those rules and laws that lend them their quality. It’s all in the littlest of gestures and the kindnesses we extend one another that reinforce the best relationships we have, both in the divine and the human realm.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend!