We are enjoined to remember the liberation from Egypt and to relate it constantly. Interestingly, the Torah seems to emphasize the fact that we were redeemed b’chodesh ha’aviv, in the spring. This is part and parcel of the geulah, liberation. It must be stressed again and again that we left during the spring. Rashi explains that we were redeemed in the spring, at a time when it is not cold or hot, or rainy. Indeed, at a time when the climate is perfect.
When we think about it, however, the fact that we left Egypt in the spring is secondary to the actual liberation and its ensuing miracles. Furthermore, Chazal note, “See the chesed, kindness, that He granted you,” in regard to the “perfect” time for taking us from Egypt. This kindness is certainly laudatory, but is it to be mentioned in the same breath with the miracles surrounding the Exodus? Apparently, there is a significant lesson to be derived from this unique “chesed.”
Horav Chaim Goldvicht, z.l., distinguishes between the concepts of gemilas chesed, acts of loving-kindness, and rachamanus, acts of compassion. In the Talmud Yevamos 79a, Chazal state that there are three distinguishing characteristics by which we can identify a Jew: rachamanim, compassionate; baishanim, having a sense of shame, embarrassment – they can easily blush; gomlei chasadim, they perform acts of loving-kindness.
To the average person, rachamanim and gomlei chasadim are one and the same. The one who acts kindly is compassionate. He who has compassion acts lovingly towards his fellow man. Why are these two similar features considered separately?
We derive from here that rachmanus and chesed are the same characteristic. The Zohar HaKadosh defines a chasid as one who is mischaseid im Kono, acts with kindness towards his Creator. Certainly the concept of rachamim, compassion, does not apply in our relationship vis-à- vis Hashem. Yet, a concept of chesed does apply.
The pasuk in Mishlei 11:17 reads, Gomel nafsho ish chesed, “A man of kindness brings good upon himself.” Chazal explain that the great Tanna, Hillel, viewed his body as a holy receptacle, catering to the needs of the neshamah, soul. We must, therefore, say that rachamim is an act of reciprocity whereby one manifests compassion for another human being. Chesed, on the other hand, is a sensitivity one demonstrates without provocation from another source. If one notices someone who is suffering, he has rachmanus on him and responds accordingly. When the reason for the rachmanus disappears, so does the compassion. Furthermore, even the most sensitive person, if confronted with pain and suffering on a constant basis, will, eventually lose some of his compassion. His sensitivity becomes numbed by too much exposure to pain.
The gomel chesed is different. He acts out of the kindness of his heart. Chesed is a characteristic within a person who seeks to perform kindness, to help others. He does not need external motivation to act. The baal chesed acts out of his own sense of duty. He wants to help others, even if they do not seek help or realize that they need his assistance. This may be noted from Avraham Avinu who helped the three Arabs/angels who he felt were in need of spiritual assistance, even though they did not apparently think so. Avraham was troubled when he lacked the opportunity or ability to be gomel chesed with others.
In explaining the pasuk in Mishlei, Chazal teach us that one can perform chesed even with oneself! The soul cannot be elevated as long as the body demands its physical gratification. Thus, when one addresses the needs of his body, he is essentially performing a kindness to his neshamah. Shlomo Ha’melech tells us that one can be a gomel nefesh, act with chesed towards his soul by giving assistance to his body. Now that we see a clear line of demarcation between chesed and rachamim, we can begin to understand the relationship of chesed to yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt. Rav Goldvicht explains that if one were to examine the earlier pesukim in which Hashem states that He saw the Jews’ affliction, listened to their cries and understood their pain, the implication clearly is that the Exodus had its genesis in Hashem’s rachamim. This compassion evoked Hashem’s response – yetzias Mitzrayim. An exodus based upon the middah, attribute, of rachamim is metzutzam, somewhat suppressed and constrained.
Hashem went a step further. He redeemed Klal Yisrael with the middah of chesed. While it is true that the original stimulation was Klal Yisrael’s pain and suffering, it evoked an overwhelming response of chesed. True, a nation that has heretofore been subjected to harsh, spirit-breaking labor is only too happy to be redeemed. The fact that this redemption took place during a propitious time just adds to the event. The most significant aspect, however – the aspect that concerns them most – is the actual redemption. Everything else is “frosting on the cake.”
We now have a more profound understanding of this aspect of the redemption. It is an indication of the sheleimus ha’geulah, completeness, perfection of the redemption. Hashem redeemed them with chesed, demonstrating His boundless love for Klal Yisrael. Yetzias Mitzrayim was an outpouring of unmitigated kindness to Hashem’s Chosen People. His love for Klal Yisrael was manifest in the fact that He saw to it that every aspect of the geulah would be favorable.
This should serve as a standard in our interpersonal relationships with people. Our friend should not have to fall into poverty, illness, or serious trouble before we reach out to help him. That is compassion; we respond when there is a need. Rather, we should act with chesed, in which we look for opportunities to reach out. Indeed, if that were to be the case, we might very well prevent the need for rachmanus.