Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Strands of Frand

Yesterday morning I heard a CD from Rabbi Yissochor Frand that really struck a chord with me. He wanted to illustrate the difference between Chessed (kindness) and Ahavas Chessed (love of kindness). I'll embellish what he said a little to give 'em flavor, but this is basically how he told them.
There's a guy who loves in Boro Park, where Meshulachim (charity collectors) go around to houses every Sunday for money. The protagonist of our story is a good Jew, and he gives checks to all who come a'knocking. At noon he goes off to Sprinkles (best ice cream in NY) to get some ice cream, then heads to Flatbush to get some pizza at Pizza Time (best pizza in NY). He realizes after eating the pizza that he really should have had desert second, so he heads back to Sprinkles, though this time he gets soft-serve. Once he's done there it's homeward bound, and as he's pulling up his block he notices a Meshulach just leaving his front door. As he parks his car, our hero thinks, "Wow, this is great, I just missed that one."
Rabbi Frand says that this kind of behavior is Chessed, but it's not Ahavas Chessed. If he really loved doing Chessed then he would have made sure to give that guy a check, or at the very least felt bad.
Ahavas Chessed, Rabbi Frand says, is best illustrated by the following story: A guy once came to Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Pam Z"L (1913-2001), Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn, New York. The guy had some great idea for a Torah-based venture, but like all great plans, he needed capital. He came to Rabbi Pam and laid out his idea, asking at the end for Rabbi Pam to enlist his former Talmidim to help. Rabbi Pam said that he would love to help, but he had just asked his Talmidim for a worthy cause, and he didn't think he could go back again. After all, there's only so many times you can dip into the well. The man left, and ten minutes later one of Rabbi Pam's students came into the office. He found his teacher looking at index cards. upon which were written the names of former Talmidim, and shedding bitter tears. He inquired as to the cause of these tears. Rabbi Pam told him what had happened, and said, "I'm looking through these cards, and realizing that my students truly can't give, and I'm crying." Rabbi Frand says that this is the epitome of Ahavas Chessed, the love of kindness.
I heard this story while with a certain nameless Rabbi, and later with Rabbi Mordechai Friedman, Dean of YHSTC, and they both thought these illustrations to be ridiculous. What is Chessed? Chessed is kindness, action. Ahava, love, is a feeling. The best scenario is when a person has love which leads him to action. In the middle is pure action, without love. And Ahava without action is worthless. In fact, the love itself is suspect, because it leads to nothing. Looking at the two stories, we can see that our charitable, ice cream loving, pizza eating, soft-serve slurping, happy not to give out more money protagonist is in fact a pretty good guy. Chassidus constantly stresses that "Hamaaseh hu haikar", action is the main thing, even when unaccompanied by feeling. This is especialy true with Tzedaka, where the goal is for the receiver to get what he needs, regardless of the feelings of the giver. The second story doesn't exactly fit this bill. Rabbi Pam had no Chessed, no action, just Ahava. The question could be asked by less respectful people, "Who was this Ahava for? For the organization that would not be helped, for the Talmidim, or for Rabbi Pam himself?"
The entire point of Shavuos is encapsulated in these two stories. Before the giving of the Torah, our forefathers and four mothers kept the entire Torah, and they did it a lot better than we or anyone of our ilk can ever hope to do. But... they didn't change the world. After the giving of the Torah, we can change the world. We can make it a better place. Giving Tzedaka without feeling, even grudgingly, is giving Tzedaka. Feeling bad about not being able to give Tzedaka is beautiful, but it accomplishes nothing. See this post for a cute story on the subject.
By the way, I'm not trying to say anything negative about Rabbi Pam here. After all, he was a known friend and supporter of Lubavitch. What I'm trying to say is that A. Rabbi Frand really messed up big time here, and B. Action is what counts. Oh yes, and C. Without Chassidus, life is a bog; with it, life is firm ground, enabling you to plant your ladder and reach for the heavens.

25 comments:

Eliezer said...

Let Chessed be better than Ahavas Chessed. But sof kol sof, Rabbi Frand has a valid distinction. Rav Pam's tears do in fact the phenomenon of "ahavas chessed" and not "chessed. Unfortunately, R. Frand is right.

The Real Shliach said...

If that's Ahavas Chessed, then I want no part in it. But seriously, true Ahavas Chessed is loving Chessed, which means loving the action of Chessed. Over here, what was he loving exactly? I'm not quite sure what Ahavas Chessed exactly is, but I don't think this it.

Nemo said...

Why is it that Litvish-types always have to illustrate superior behavior in these stories with a story about a Gadol?

The Real Shliach said...

Perhaps because the only superior behavior among these "Litvish-types" is that of the "Gedolim".

Nemo said...

At least anything exemplary.

Sometimes I wonder whether these are lessons to take or whether they're just intended to accentuate the greatness of said leaders.

Eliezer said...

TRS: You proabably disagree with Rabbi Frand about the relative value of chessed versus ahavas chessed, but R. Frand's definition of the terms is still correct. The hypothetical pizza and ice cream lover does chessed without loving it. And Rav Pam would love to actually do the chessed, just he freaking was able! Admit it. The snag is right.

Eliezer said...

Nemo: How can a Lubavitcher say such things? Lubavs use stories of the Rebbeim/great Chassidim much more profligately than snags do. And they relate said stories with the intention of accentuating said leaders' greatness, not necessarily to teach a lesson.

Some even postulate that snag godol-worship is an effect of hasidic Rebbe-worship

Nemo said...

Eliezer- I'm not your typical Lubavitcher. I question Lubavitchers to the same degree, although with Lubavitchers it's very different. It goes with the Hassidic territory to be self-congratulatory and also with Lubavitchers, when they want to show the amplitude of their leaders and achievers, they let you know what they're doing. They also don't mask their extolling in relative contrasts- this is Hamon Am, and then - even better - this is how a Gadol acts; a level which we Hamon Am can never achieve.

The Real Shliach said...

Eliezer, you have yet to answer my question. Ahavas Chessed is loving the Chessed...which part of the Chessed was he loving here?

Eliezer said...

He loved the doing Chessed. When he couldn't do it, he felt bad, indicating his love for the action of chessed.

Nemo said...

(With the Heilige R' Eliezer here)

Eliezer said...

????

arnie draiman said...

a fascinating topic and discussion. yasher koach. for me, whatever tzedakah you give has to be given only to places that use it efficiently and effectively, otherwise:

a) you are wasting precious tzedakah shekels, and

b) you are literally stealing from the poor people you were trying to help. (see "al tigzol dal, kee dal hu" - mishlei 22:22 and the various comments on it, paticularly bamidbar rabba 5:2

so, be careful of those asking for your tzedakah money - it is NOT yours to begin with, but belongs to the people in need, so use it wisely. be smart!

arnie draiman
www.draimanconsulting.com

Nemo said...

I said that I'm with you buddy!

Eliezer said...

Oh. nice. I thought you were being sarcastic.

The Real Shliach said...

Eliezer: What did this love lead to? Tears. No action. Ahavas Chessed leads to action. Is it a nice thing to cry if you can't give charity? Yes, but Ahavas Chessed it ain't.
Arnie: Yes, I fully agree. My theory is that if a guy is desperate enough to go begging for money then he must need it. I hate asking for money, so when someone asks me, I figure, "How would I feel in his shoes" and give. Not necessarily a whole lot, but I try and give.
Nemo and Eliezer: Glad to hear you're best friends now.

Nemo said...

TRS- If it would have been possible to do Chessed, he wouldn't have hesitated. He loved Chessed so much that it hurt him not to accomplish it. Of course he knows it would be better to actually give the money, but he's despairing because it's just not possible. Yes, our purpose here is Tachlis- and nothing the RY did contradicts that- but that doesn't mean that we can't be bothered by our inability to fulfill our purpose.

And now for a little of my Kefira. As Lubavitchers we always believe that where there's a will there's a way, if you build it, [money] will come, and other such cliches. So it's natural for us to think that all you've got to do is make a Keli and Hashem will provide. It works most of the time, and every Shliach has one or two of these stories, but there are also times when it's impossible to press on and on for money which isn't there. The RY recognized that his guys just didn't have money and he was bothered that they wouldn't be able to help.

Call it pessimism, call it realism, but to me that is devotion.

The Real Shliach said...

It seems like I keep on saying the same thing, but who says his love was for the Chessed. Maybe he just felt bad that his Talmidim had no money, or that he (Rabbi Frand) sent away a guy empty handed. Not that I like to suspect a guy, but is this really the best example Frand could have provided? It just doesn't demonstrate conclusively that there is Ahavas Chessed going on over here-it could still be Ahavas Atzmo.

Nemo said...

Granted. But it's irrelevant. We're to assume, based on the fact that the story is being told in this context, that the intention is as Rabbi Frand is correct. He's correct in the point that he's trying to bring across, that if that was the RY's actual feeling, that would be "the epitome of Ahavas Chessed."

In another situation, say if we wanted to make a character defamation on the esteemed rabbi, your points would be valid.

The Real Shliach said...

Frand wants you to think this is Ahavas Chessed. He says that it's Ahavas Chessed. I bet you that Chassidus has a totally different pshat that would blow this thing out of the water like there's no tomorrow.

Nemo said...

Well, dig it up.

This seems like a good Pshat to me. Although there are other ways to also be Ohev Chessed.

The Real Shliach said...

A. I'm trying. B. Really? C. What other ways are there?

Nemo said...

To be the guy that chases the Meshulach down with a check.

The Real Shliach said...

According to Frand, yes. According to Chassidus? I honestly don't know. Yet.

The Real Shliach said...

OK Nemo, here's the situation. I checked through the Sefer Hamaftechos of both the Rebbe Rashab and the Friedriker Rebbe. Nothing. I don;t trust either, because I've seen Maamarim that at least quote the Passuk (Micah 6, 5); in the Rebbe Rashab's that Maamar is Zechor Hashem 5679, while the Friedriker Rebbe has it in one of the Kuntreisim. The Rebbe brings it down in one Maamar in Melukat, though the Maamar itself isn't Mugah. That Maamar is Aleh Masai 5713.
Unfortunately, both Maamarim which I managed to locate focus on the Yirah part of the Passuk, not Ahava.
Bichlal, none of the Meforshim in Nach Lublin or Mikraos Gedolos really say anything, so at this point I guess I'll just give up the good fight.