I once saw a bumper sticker that read “perform random acts of kindness.” Through Jewish tradition and texts, we learn that kindness is anything but random: it involves thought, intention, and initiative. This week we read Parshat Chayei Sarah. The parshah begins by recalling the life of Sarah at the moment of her death. We learn of Avraham’s great act of Hesed — kindness — in arranging for an appropriate burial for his departed life partner. In Jewish tradition, enabling a respectful burial is considered the greatest act of kindness, since the recipient cannot repay the gesture. Avraham’s act of kindness sets the tone for the parshah. His servant Eliezer does a great act of kindness by going on a long journey to find the right wife for Avraham and Sarah’s son, Yitzhak. He arrives late one evening by the town well. There he is immediately offered water by a young woman, who also offers water to his camels. This act of kindness that he witnesses assures him that his woman — Rivka — is the right life-partner for Yizchak. There are many acts of kindness that we can do with fair certainty that they will be appreciated: offering water to those who appear thirsty; opening doors for those whose hands are full; ensuring that people are included. Other acts of kindness are more complicated. They require us to think more carefully and intentionally about what other people want and need. During our professional development sessions today, our teachers continued to explore the concept of emotional intelligence as it pertains to their practice in the classroom. Through a series of visualizations, role-plays, and discussions, we practiced Daniel Goleman’s four elements of emotional intelligence: Self Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. We learned that it is essential for us as adults — teachers and parents — to be aware of our own emotions and reactions when dealing with a child. When we can acknowledge and manage our emotions, it is much easier to be thoughtful, curious, and empathetic about how a child is feeling. Only then are we able to think about the best strategies for helping a child thrive, recover from a disappointment, or overcome a struggle. To be kind to others, we need to be able to be aware of how we feel and how they feel. There is nothing random about being kind. It requires practice, self-awareness, and curiosity about others, and a willingness to engage with them.
This Shabbat may we all have opportunities to practice intentional, non-random Hesed (kindness).