I really do not like to fly and I always enjoy wherever I land. But the process of getting there is never an experience to which I look forward. Over the years I have employed various tools to help mitigate these feelings. I bring snacks, a few magazines I do not normally read, and lately…podcasts. Over these last number of years, I have also brought the practice of Mussar with me. The middah, spiritual attribute, that I find most helpful is that of osher lev, ordinarily translated as “kindness” but literally means “fullness of heart.”
I realize many people enter the airport with anxiety and sometimes even dread. I also notice that many people who staff the airport are too often on the receiving end of responses fueled by these negative feelings. The middah of osher lev, generosity of heart/kindness is incredibly powerful and often quite easily accessed. Asking a TSA agent how they are doing or simply thanking them for their help and doing so with a smile may seem trite as you read this, but know that it is transformative.
In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, Abraham, after burying his beloved wife, Sarah, sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for their son, Isaac. The only instruction Abraham gives to Eliezer is, “Do not bring a woman from my homeland.” Eliezer is left on his own to figure out who would be the right match for Isaac. With wisdom and insight, before setting out, Eliezer seeks the guidance of God. He asks for a very specific sign to indicate he has found the right woman. “Let the woman who offers water to me and my camels, (10 in number, each capable of drinking 20 gallons of water at once), let her be the woman Isaac is to marry.”
Eliezer sets out on his journey and, lo and behold, Rebecca appears at the well and rushes to offer him water and offers to bring water for his animals. Our sages of blessed memory point to her action as a great display of osher lev, fullness of heart/kindness. It is this single and most important spiritual attribute that determines Rebecca’s choice and marks the beginning of the next generation.
Osher lev was exactly what Isaac needed to heal after the double trauma of the Akedah, barely surviving the near sacrifice of his life at the hand of his father, then immediately after, losing his mother, Sarah. Rebecca and her kindness heal Isaac and allow him to begin to build his own family thereby closing one chapter and beginning the next.
Osher lev is what we need more of and it should not be confined to airports. How we all yearn to be granted a kind word or gesture. How dearly does our world yearn for kindness/generosity of heart.
We continue to navigate our way through a world filled with anxiety and dread. Covid and now RSV and the flu are filling our hospitals. This midterm election though thankfully devoid of physical violence reflects how polarized our country remains. Climate change and war continue to affect us all. This is the time to bring forward the fullness of our hearts and speak and act with kindness. We can bring healing and change with the words that we use and acts we perform.
May this Shabbat bring renewed energy to our efforts to make our families, our communities, and our world sources of comfort, healing, and hope.