SALT - Wednesday, 25 Tishrei 5780 - October 24, 2019


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  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Midrash, in a famous passage (Bereishit Rabba 8:5), tells that the ministering angels in the heavens formed different “factions” when they heard of God’s intention to create the human being.  One of the “battles” that took place, the Midrash relates, was waged between the angels representing Kindness, and the angels representing Truth.  The angels of Kindness argued vehemently in favor of the creation of Adam, noting that human beings dispense kindness to one another.  The angels of Truth, however, retorted, “He should not be created – for he is full of falsehoods!”  The Midrash tells that God “took Truth and cast it onto the ground,” effectively silencing its arguments.  He then proceeded to create Adam and Chava.
            The Midrash here teaches that kindness and truth are, to an extent, in conflict with one another.  People perform many “kindnesses,” but very often, this kindness is “false,” and not genuine.  So much of the goodwill we dispense is at least partially insincere, performed for some ulterior motive.  Sometimes we do favors begrudgingly, feeling dutybound to help the other person, seeking simply to discharge our responsibility.  On some occasions, we do a favor with the expectation of some sort of reciprocity, feeling that helping another person will ultimately come back to benefit us.  Another common motive for kindness is social acceptance and approval – we do not wish to appear stingy or uncaring, or we want to build for ourselves an impressive reputation to earn people’s admiration.  Additionally, there are times when we act graciously to avoid feelings of guilt.  And very often, we do a favor to feel gratified and proud, so we can experience the thrill of being virtuous.  We might also dispense kindness in order to satisfy our inner desire to feel important and needed.  The common denominator between all these motives is that the favor is done mainly to benefit oneself, rather than the one he or she helps.  And so when the “angels of Kindness” argued that the human being should be created because of the kindness people perform, the “angels of Truth” dismissed this claim, noting that the favors are “false,” performed without the sincere desire to assist the beneficiary.
            God intervened, and He “took Truth and cast it onto the ground.”  This might mean that God affirmed the value of kindness even if it is partially “false,” marred by a tinge of egotism and self-interest.  When kindness and truth conflict, precedence is given to kindness.  Even if our courtesy, graciousness and generosity is not pristinely sincere, it is meaningful and valuable.  While ideally we should strive to be motivated by genuine goodwill and love for our fellow, it is understood that we will often act graciously for self-serving purposes, such as for our reputation, our feelings of pride, or the hope of reciprocation.  From the outset, it was anticipated that Truth would at times need to be “cast onto the ground” in the interest of positive and mutually beneficial relationships between people.  Even as we strive to achieve purely genuine love for all people, we are urged to act kindly, sensitively, courteously and respectfully even when we are driven by self-serving interests.