Question & Answer With Moshe David Tokayer - Challenging Routine Mitzvos
A Simple Jew asks:
With the exception of davening, which routine mitzva have you found to be the most challenging?
Moshe David Tokayer answers:
The most challenging mitzvah to me is the mitzvah of, "ואהבת לרעך כמוך/You will love your fellow as you love yourself." The reason is that this is not simply an emotional requirement as it would seem from the simple meaning of the pasuk. The Rambam brings this pasuk as the source for gmilus chassadim as well as other mitzvos such as visiting the sick and consoling mourners. I am in situations daily in which the mitzvah of gemilus chassadim applies.
The are two reasons this mitzvah is particularly difficult for me. The first is that we are not trained to view this mitzvah as requirement. A simple example will illustrate the point. On the way out of Yerushalayim there is always a group of hitchhikers looking for rides. How many times do people pass without considering that the mitzvah of gemilus chassadim applies. Picking up a hitchhiker is not merely a nice thing to do. It is a requirement. The Chafetz Chaim in his classic Ahavas Chessed discusses this in detail and laments that people in his time viewed gemilus chassadim as a nice thing but did not approach it as a requirement the way they approached mitzvos such as tefillin, lulav and matzah.
Even when we do this mitzvah, many times we pat ourselves on the back thinking that we are now big tzadikim because we did something nice for someone when in reality we simply fulfilled a mitzvah that the Torah requires us to do.
The second reason that this mitzvah is difficult is because the physical acts of gemilus chassadim are supposed to reflect the emotional love for the beneficiary of the chessed. In other words, we are supposed to love our fellow Jew enough to want to express that love by doing good for the other person when the situation arises. This level requires work which, for myself, is difficult. It means making it a priority, something about which I am lax and I believe that I am unfortunately not alone.
I think that the way this mitzvah will become more ingrained in our psyche is for the educational institutions to stress it. If it is taught to children from a young age, it will become second nature. Children who are brought up in this way, will be sensitive to situations which require the fulfillment of the mitzvah of gemilus chassadim much the same way that we are sensitive to other mitzvos that we are brought up with.