The theme of “Chessed”, or acts of kindness, is at the core of this week’s parsha. Avraham welcomes the three strangers into his tent with and offers them a lavish meal, freshly cooked, in a way which is above and beyond what anyone would have expected. (In the end, it turns out the strangers were angels with some good news).
Kindness comes in many shapes and forms. And sometimes, the effects of an act of kindness are only felt well in the future. In the movie “Pay it Forward”, eleven and a half year old Trevor McKinney, (played by Haley Joel Osment) does many acts of kindness, including bringing home a homeless man to care for and setting up his mom with his teacher (who is covered with burns from his childhood). He creates a movement of “Pay it Forward”, to get people to do a favor for three people, and the recipient of the favors do a favor for three others rather than paying the favor back . I remember being incredibly moved and affected by the movie, and this powerful concept which author Lily Hardy Hammond described as: “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.”
This past Shabbat I had the opportunity to spend time with a wonderful man -Rabbi Sharon Shalom and I saw the idea of “pay it forward” come alive. Rabbi Shalom was born in Ethiopia as part of the Beta Israel jewish community, and as a nine year old child made his way to Israel with other Beta Israel who escaped from Ethiopia in the late 1970’s. Rabbi Shalom became the first Ethiopian Jew to receive rabbinic ordination in Israel. He spoke to us about both his personal journey and the challenges of integrating into Israeli society. We were moved by his story of walking across the Sudan as a child and his escape into Israel, and his experiences with racial discrimination reminded us of how important it is to open our hearts to people of different backgrounds.
One of the most poignant stories told by Rabbi Shalom was about his rescue and delivery from Egypt to the Sinai. Israel’s secret service, The Mossad, was responsible for smuggling Ethiopian Jews into Israel. Rabbi Shalom described this covert operation. The Mossad opened a hotel on the shores of the Red Sea, which ended up becoming popular with Europeans for snorkeling and scuba diving. The frogmen of the Mossad taught the tourists to snorkel by day, and then smuggled the Ethiopian Jews on small boats across to Sharm al Sheikh by night. Rabbi Shalom remembers as a child, being brough to the beach in middle of the night, and a big commando picking him up and hugging him. He saw that the commando had tears in his eyes. At the time, he said, he did not understand why a big commando should be crying.
But he does now. He understood this man was here to care for him, even though they never met and would never see each other again. In Israel he was supported in kindness;The Israeli government supported him, the children’s village provided by Emunah Women nurtured him, and Rabbi Shalom was able to pursue his education, be reunited with his parents, and grow to become a leader in Israel today. And the story does not end here.
A few months ago, Rabbi Shalom got a call from that member of the Mossad, who had been the commander of the rescue operation that took him to Israel. The Mossad agent had tracked him down because his daughter was getting married, and he wanted Rabbi Shalom to be the rabbi at the wedding. At the chuppah, all who were present cried the tears of a big family reunion; a reunion that truly brought together Jews from around the world.
Kindness is an act that we do today, but sometimes its effects are not felt or completed until later. Pay it forward is a great lesson of the parsha and of the everlasting effects of kindness.