Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gemilus Chasadim of Gentiles

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This week, the Torah tells us the story of how the daughter of Pharaoh saved Moshe. Apropos of that, I want to point out that we Orthodox Jews tend to develop a parochial, self-congratulatory, hermetically insular resistance to admitting the fact of gentile ba'alei chesed. I think this is embarrasingly juvenile. There are better ways to encourage ethnic and religious pride than to deny middos tovos among the goyim. This morning I had just such an experience, which, though relatively trivial, reminded me about the chesed of Bisya. On another occassion, I bumped someone's rear bumper: there wasn't enough to make real trouble, but there certainly was enough to cause problems if one was so inclined. The fellow whose bumper I hit, a young black man, got out, saw that it was relatively trivial, and said, forget it, let's just be grateful it wasn't worse. Now, it may be that he was was afraid to be late for a meeting with his parole officer; and maybe he had stolen the car. Or it may be that he was just a decent human being, a mentsch. And it may be that Goyim now are, in a sense, like Geirei Toshav, since Torah concepts have been incorporated into Western society. Technically, thay are not Geirei Toshav, since this requires a beis din, and it is a machlokes Rambam and Ra'avad in 14 Isurei Biah whether the concept of Ger Toshav exists now that Yovel is not applicable; but it would be a fine old kulah vis a vis the Rambam in 12 Isurei Biah end of 5.

The Tosfos Yomtov in Avos 3:14 says that Chaviv Adam she'nivra be'tzelem refers to all of mankind. Others, brought there, vigorously debate this universalist perspective, and I certainly can see how one might be uncomfortable applying that term to the sicarii and anthropophagi of the Congo. But when you see it happen, I don't think there's a converse of "havei dan es kol adam lekaf zechus" for gentiles.

I recently got a letter that was intended for an Arabic family that lives down the street. So, one would assume that the issur of "leman sefos harava es hatzmei'a" and/or lo sechanem would apply (see CM 266, and Beis Yosef Tur ChM 249, end of D'H Assur). On the other hand, Tosfos in Avoda Zara 20 says that there is no issur of lo sechanem on neighbors or people who know you, and so we pasken: see YD 151:11, and there is certainly no issur of lo sechaneim when what you do generates a Kiddush Hashem. But then I would have to make sure to re-deliver the letter davka when they are home, and while wearing a big old yarmulkeh. But how would I want my neighbors to behave if an important letter of mine came to their house? Doesn't knowing that some stranger re-delivered their mail encourage them to behave in a more civilized manner in general? What do we do to society if our altruism is limited to our narrow group like the Chasidah, the Of Tamei that is "osah chesed im chavrose'ha," and we refuse to assist others absent some personal benefit? When I need a Shabbas Goy to turn on the heat, or to turn off the alarm system, or whatever, do I need to be ruefully grateful that they don't have the lo sechaneim on us that we have on them?

On the other hand: respect leads to understanding, understanding leads to empathy, and empathy leads to ta'aruvos. the safest thing to do is to take an absolutely rejectionist stance. It is very difficult to categorically deplore someone's religious beliefs while appreciating and respecting his positive traits. "Hatzileini na miyad achi, miyad Eisav" is a very narrow path we have to walk.

Another point: I have been batting this question back and forth for years.
Is there a din of lo sechanem when you reciprocate a favor where there is no possiblity of being repaid and there is no Kiddush Hashem.
Of course, as I said from Tosfos and the Mechaber, favors to neighbors are legally viewed as investments. But if there is no possibility of being repaid; if there is no Kiddush Hashem; is the simple concept of hakaras hatov mattir lo sechanem?
Pashtus, I would think it is. It's not chinam! I'm doing it because I want to show my gratitude for a favor he did for me. In a sense, I owe him the reciprocation. It may not be legally enforceable, but it seems to be a moral debt. After all, the chiyuv of Hakaras Hatov is a Meta-Mitzvah: Adam Harishon, when he said "Ha'isha asher nasata imadi," was severely punished for failing to be makir tov.
Expanding this proposal, let us say that we have a chiyuv of hakaras hatov to the United States, for taking so many Jews in, and for supporting Israel, and for, in general, not only being a medina shel chesed, but also for not killing us. And what is the United States? It is no more than the term we use for the democratic will of its citizens. If so, a concommitant of hakaras hatov to the United States would be a chiyuv hakaras hatov to its citizens!
So there would be no din of lo sechaneim on any citizen of the United States.

In Gittin, in the sugya of Le'olam Bahem Ta'avodu, according to the Rashba that this is tied to the din of Lo Sechanem, the lashon of the rishonim seems to indicate that mere hakaras hatov is not a mattir. There has to be some legal obligation that you are fulfilling, or the likelihood that the favor will be returned.


  1. Yordo Litvol Litzorich Tevilah Litzorich Geirus for YIchus Yisroel VNIREH LI after the tevillah was the MIMAYIM MOSCISICHU


  3. Methinks the Tanyah interprets "Chesed LeUmim Chatas" that even their chesed is a sin.

  4. Yes, it could mean that. In fact, there is a Gemara in BB 10b that brings many tana'im that learn the passuk like the Baal Hatanya. And the Gemara then brings RY Ben Zakai that learns that chesed of Goyim is meritorious for them. AND it could mean that it is a chatas le'yisrael, because we should be so much better by comparison, having received the Torah. How would you taitch ohp the Chasidei Umos Ha'olam that jeopardized the life of their families by hiding Jews, while certain Jewish communities turned their back on refugees from other Eastern European countries? You should just hear what Harav Avraham Cohen, the celebrated mohel, has to say about his experiences as a young partisan during WWII, who, having escaped into a certain eastern european country, was turned away from Jewish home after Jewish home, because the residents didn't want to antagonize the local authorites, who, as of the moment, weren't killing local Jews.

  5. Actually, R' Elchanan Wasserman discusses the gemara (BB 10b), and shows that "chessed le'umim chatas" is a condemnation of paganism. He quotes numerous rishonim to make his point. Paganism is an approach to religion which is about keeping the gods happy so as to get what one wants. And thus, even their "chessed" is self-serving and chatas.

    IOW, the Baal haTanya is giving an interpretation which disagrees with a stream of explaining the gemara dating back to at least R' Bachya, if not older.


  6. I think keeping your neigbors' mail may be a federal crime.

    Anyway, how is it lo techaneim when you are giving the person what is righfully (and lawfully) their own property? Wouldn't it be returning an aveidah, and don't we pasken that this is permitted b'zman hazeh because of kiddush Hashem?

  7. Note carefully that hashavas aveidah is permitted bizman hazeh only because of kiddush Hashem. Otherwise, there would be an underlying issur. The question is, when we fulfill hashavas aveidah, shouldn't we keep in mind that it is a hora'as sha'ah, and the etzem ma'aseh is otherwise ossur - and the reasons why it is ossur? This in itself will help mitigate the negative aspects of "violating" this "non-intercourse" mitzvah.

  8. Chaim, I looked at the Federal Statute, and while keeping it may be illegal, throwing it into the garbage, as far as I can tell, is fine.

    Micha, I looked at Reb Elchonon, Ma'amarim and Shiurim, and he is not talking about Chesed Le'umim Chatas. He is talking about why the Gemara compares a Scrooge to an Oveid Avoda Zara, and he says because it is idolatry to think that possessing money will save you, when in fact it is only Chesed Hashem that will save you. Lo yo'il hon le'yom evra-- but if you have zechusim, then even though you gave your money away, Utzedaka tatzil mimaves.
    And- what Rabbeinu Bachya?

    Anonymous of January 11- By the way, if you'll look at the mefarshim in Mishlei 14:34, you will see that almost nobody says what the Gemara in BB says.
    Meiri: It shames us, because if they, not having gotten the Torah, give, why don't we give ten times more?
    Ibn Ezra: Of course tzedaka is a zechus for goyim, and the Raya is from Nevuchadnezar-- "chata'eich bitzedaka perok."
    Rashi-- Goyishe tzedaka is sinful because they are just giving away money they stole. (If he thinks only goyim do this, the IE must not have been reading the paper lately....)
    Ralbag: Jewish charity is a zechus. The belief among Goyim that self-affliction is meritorious is wrong; it is really sinful.
    Malbim: It refers to Jews as well as Goyim.

    I would have looked at the Gaon's pirush, but my Mishlei is missing from perek 11 to 21.

    Anonymous January 12 5:15- Absolutely. I made that clearer in the post.