I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself. — Psalm 89:2
A note to our readers: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins today at sundown. Because it is a non-working holiday, these devotions were prepared for you in advance.
According to Jewish tradition, when God created the world it was teetering like a chair with only three legs until God added a fourth leg — kindness. This idea is alluded to in Psalm 89 when we read, “I will declare that your love stands firm forever . . . ” In Hebrew, the word olam can mean “forever” as it is translated here, but it can also mean “world.” Following the latter translation, this verse has an alternate meaning that is a well-known mantra in the Jewish tradition. We translate it as “I will declare — the world is built on kindness.”
This idea is true on so many levels. For example, each human being who enters the world is dependent on the kindness of others. As infants, we can’t take care of ourselves. We are dependent on someone to feed us, clean us, and keep us safe from harm. Someone had to go out of their way, and more often than not, give up a lot of sleep, so that we could make it through the first years of life.
Toward the end of our lives, many of us become just as dependent or at least somewhat dependent upon others. Again, as we age, we need acts of kindness from others to keep healthy physically and to maintain our emotional well-being.
In between the beginning and the end of our lives, we might think that we are independent and not in need of the kindness of others. However, life has a way of teaching us otherwise. We go through challenging times and we need the people around us to help us out, even if it is just with a word of encouragement or a smile.
People are built with kindness and that is what it means when our sages teach that the world is built on kindness. We are the world, and we would be nothing without the love and giving of those around us.
Think back to a time when you were in need of kindness and you received it. How did that affect your day and your life? Now think of a time that you really could have used some help, financially, emotionally, or otherwise – but you did not receive it. How did that affect you?
Let’s use our memories of kindness – of both receiving and not – to motivate us to help others. One small act of kindness can go a long way in the life of another person. Moreover, kindness tends to have a ripple effect as the beneficiaries often pass it along to others. Who knows the impact one act of kindness can have on the world?
Indeed, the world is built on kindness, and we can be a part of building God’s world.