Parshas Va'Eschanan and Shabbos Nachamu:
GIVE to Get
by Miri Korbman
In this week’s Torah portion, Moshe continues his parting speech to the Jewish people, recounting his fervent attempts to entreat Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael with them. Moshe describes how he pleaded with Hashem, asking Him to forgo His original punishment for Moshe’s sin at Mei Merivah. Moshe describes how he addressed Hashem in his Tefilah, “Va’Eschanan el Hashem… leimor,” and I implored Hashem [at that time] and said, “…Atah HaChilosah LiHaros es Avdecha es Gadlecha,” You have begun to show [me] Your greatness (3:23-24). What exactly is God’s “greatness” that Moshe is invoking here?
Rashi explains that Moshe is referring here to Hashem’s attribute of Chesed, kindness. Rashi cites the pasuk “Yigdal na koach Hashem,” - let Hashem’s power be great - excerpted from Moshe’s appeal to Hashem’s thirteen attributes of mercy to decrease His anger at the Jewish people following the sin of the spies. What makes kindness so “great”?
Rav Wolbe notes that of all the characters in Tanach, it is Avraham who is most known for this attribute, as he was famous for his displays of Chesed. It is curious, though, that Avraham is most well known for his Chesed and not for his unique and staunch Emunah, being the only person on earth to recognize, believe in, and spread knowledge of God’s existence. Yet it was Avraham’s kindness that was his truest display of faith. The people of Avraham’s time at best believed that if some High Power existed, He did not care about the mundane affairs of flesh and blood. Avraham disproved this by becoming constantly, personally involved in the daily affairs of his followers and of strangers, demonstrating his belief that God, in the parallel process of Divine Providence, is constantly involved in the minutiae of our daily lives.
Rav Wolbe notes that each day in the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrai we say about God that He is “gomel chasadim tovim v’koneh hakol,” – “One Who does kindness/chesed and is the Owner of everything.” Rav Wolbe quotes Rav Yerucham Levovitz, who explains that God is the Owner of everything because of His kindness; we learn from this verse that through acts of kindness and generosity, we can influence and even “acquire” others.
People believed Avraham and made it their business to attach themselves to him and follow in his footsteps because he engaged them with his kindness. Kindness and generosity endear us to others, and it is through a gentle manner and genuine interest in others that we can be most influential. This is why Chesed gives us access to greatness, because it is an expansive and far-reaching Midah that yields incredible secondary gains.
Moshe invoked this Midah of Hashem in his Tefillah, recognizing that Hashem’s greatness is in His care for each and every one of us, in taking care of our mundane physical needs, in providing a world of meaning, pleasure, and splendor, simply because He knows we appreciate it. When we think about and internalize this Chesed, we want to be connected to God.
Socially and psychologically, we know this to be true. When we want to win someone over, we can try to beat them over the head with all the reasons why our opinions, beliefs, or values make sense, or we can “kill them with kindness,” - understand where they are coming from, provide for their needs, ingratiate ourselves to them and bring them over to our side, so to speak. Often, people attempt to influence others in this manner, but do so through less than savory means. Flattery can get you far in life, but there is a reason that the Midah of Chanufah, flattery, is looked down upon, and there is a reason that people have a strong aversion to feeling manipulated by flattery.
Providing for another person, caring about the needs of others, and being genuinely interested in someone else must come from a place of sincerity, or at least the desire for connection, in order to be effective. At the same time, if one is struggling to connect with others or to maintain relationships, acting with kindness and gentleness can bring one to a place of genuine connection. This “fake-it-til-you-make-it” approach is not false flattery; it is a way of honing this important Midah. As Rabbi E.E. Dessler teaches, giving leads to love; even if we initially do not feel love or affection for our fellow, through acting generously, we can foster that connection.
In DBT, there is a set of skills designed to create, foster, and nourish effective and healthy relationships with others. One such skill, ideal for strengthening and maintaining existing relationships, is called the GIVE skill, so called both because it is an acronym for the steps of the skill, as well as because it is designed with this idea of kindness as an influential tool in mind.
The steps of the GIVE skill are as follows:
Be GENTLE; speak in a manner that is gentle, kind, and respectful.
Act INTERESTED; listen and act in a way that demonstrates your genuine (or soon to be genuine) interest in others, what they are saying and experiencing, and where they are coming from. Interest can be demonstrated in how you listen, in your body posture and eye contact, and your facial expressions.
VALIDATE; show and demonstrate in your speech and actions that you understand or at least acknowledge the other person’s feelings, opinions, and experiences, nonjudgmentally.
Use an EASY manner; smile, use humor, and leave your attitude (even if it feels warranted!) at the door.
If we want to connect with and influence others, we must do so through the medium of kindness. In the aftermath of Tisha B’Av and the end of the period of mourning we have been in, we may feel let down that once again, another year has passed, and we remain in exile. It is reasonable to leave Tisha B’Av with mixed emotions; perhaps we feel despondent and hopeless, perhaps we feel accomplished and triumphant, having grown from this experience, and perhaps we just want to return to our regular lives. Either way, we cannot simply walk away without striving for some concrete change. In the realm of Bein Adam LiChaveiro, our interpersonal relationships, perhaps this is one lesson we can integrate into our lives immediately.
It is important to note that Moshe’s tefillah was not answered in the manner for which he had hoped. Ultimately, Hashem told him (very firmly) to stop davening, for the answer was no. Yet Moshe still relates this story to the Jewish people, not as a cautionary tale to discourage them from beseeching Hashem, G-d forbid, but as a lesson in what true kindness is really all about. Despite Hashem saying no, He still demonstrates His greatness through His constant Chesed. Even if we disagree with someone, or are unable to actually give the person what they need or want, we can still demonstrate kindness in our manner and way of relating to others. Similarly, even if we are leaving Tisha B’Av feeling somewhat let down by God, we can still find His kindness and greatness all around us. This week, let us try to demonstrate our own ability to GIVE to others, and to notice Hashem’s kindness to us throughout our lives. In this manner, we can hopefully enter Shabbos Nachamu armed to both provide and receive comfort in all the ways we need.