Elul Reflections: Reflection 2

Shimon the Tzaddik taught; “The world stands upon three things: the Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Chasadim”(Pirkei Avot 1:2).

Our sages taught that it is for these three things that the world was created. 

Torah - referring to learning and continued education, from generation to generation, of the texts and lessons learned through the journeys of our ancestors.

Avodah - initially referring to Temple service, which was subsequently replaced by prayer following the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE.

Gemilut Chasadim - acts of loving kindness, helping others in need (e.g. visiting the sick, welcoming guests, comforting the mourner).

Torah can also refer to our yearning for more knowledge and seeking ways to use that knowledge to improve who we are and how we understand what is required of us.

Avodah also refers to the performance of mitzvot (good deeds), to help us to connect to God and one another through the work we do, acknowledging why we do those mitzvot, and what is expected of us.

Gemilut Chasadim specifically refers to the things we can physically do to help others. While charity is an important element of helping others, we learn that acts of loving kindness go beyond that. Our rabbis taught that performing acts of loving kindness are greater than charity, because a person gives charity with their money, and while acts of loving kindness sometimes require giving money, they require us to give of ourselves. 

Each of these three elements can support that which we do in our everyday lives to not only make us better people, but to make the world a better place.

When we approach them as a unit with three interlocking properties, we discover one of the roads to teshuvah (repentance or making oneself better).

Helping others in ways that require us to give of our own being and efforts, while understanding the importance of doing so for the right purposes, which is learned through the teachings of our ancestors is surely not only the reason that this world was created for, but also a path for us to venture in our own quest for self-improvement and a means to the ways of the righteous and just.

-- Reverend Sam Zwarenstein, Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW


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