Hashem’s Escort — The Greatest Chesed
וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָמוּת וַיִּקְרָא לִבְנוֹ לְיוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ שִׂים נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶתאַל נָא תִקְבְּרֵנִי בְּמִצְרָיִם
And the days of Yisrael (Yaakov) drew close to dying, and he called to his son, to Yosef, and he said to him: “If I have found favor in your eyes, place your hand under my thigh (i.e., swear to me) that you will do with me a true kindness — please do not bury me in Mitzrayim.”1
Rashi explains that חֶסֶד וְאֶמֶת/true kindness is the kindness one does with the dead. Sometimes when we do chesed, we expect the favor to be reciprocated (i.e., you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours). However, true chesedis when one doesn’t expect anything in return. Therefore, to bury the dead is indeed a חֶסֶד שֶׁל אֶמֶת, because the dead cannot pay us back.
The Gemara discusses the mitzvah of לְוָיָה. Levayah is not just a funeral, but a procession where one accompanies the meis/dead body to its final resting place. The Gemara stresses the importance of this mitzvah, to the point that anyone who sees a meisand does not escort him is like someone who scorns the poor and blasphemes Hashem.2Someone who only gives to others in order to get back is disdainful in the eyes of Hashem; he does not give to the poor because they can’t pay him back, and there is no one poorer then a meis. In addition, he blasphemes Hashem in that he does not recognize the real reason why Hashem created poverty: in order that one would have the opportunity to do a true act of kindness, חֶסֶד שֶׁל אֶמֶת, without expecting anything in return. It is a mitzvah לְשֵׁם שָׁמַים/for the sake of Heaven, the most sought after mitzvah, because it is giving in the purest of forms and in a way is the closest we can come to being like Hashem, Whose giving is the purest of them all.
The Gemara continues with the reward to one who escorts the meis, quoting the pasukin Mishleithat says: מַלְוֵה ה’חוֹנֵן דָּל/Hashem lends to the one who is gracious to the poor.3In other words, Hashem will pay him back for all of his kindness, and not only that, but he is considered to be Hashem’s escort in the world, כְּאִלוּ מְלַוֶה את הַמָּקוֹם.4 So when we escort the dead, it’s as if we are escorting Hashem.
Levi got his name from when Leah gave birth to him, her third child. She said: עַתָּה הַפַּעַם יִלָּוֶה אִישִׁי אֵלַי/now my husband with attach himself to me. This is because when she had two children she could juggle one in each hand, but once she had three, her husband would now have to help her.5
Targum Onkelostranslates levias חִיבּוּר/to connect to, to attach to.
אָמַר רֶבִּי יְהוּדָה לָמָה נִקְרָאוּ הַשָׂרִים שֶׁל מַטָה לְוִיִם,עַל שֶׁנְלַוִים וּמִתְחַבְּרִים לְמַעַלָה כְּאֶחָד,שֶׁהַשׁוֹמֵעַ אֶת הַשִׁירָה וּנִדְבַּק נַפְשׁוֹ לְמַעַלָה בְּה’. Rabi Yehudah says, “Why were the ministers below called Levi’im? Through their accompaniment, they were able to connect the upper world and make it one, because the one who heard their song would attach his soul to Hashem above.”6
The aspect of musical accompaniment in giving shir/song to Hashem through songs of praise and thanksgiving has the potential to raise us up to a level where we can connect to Hashem by disconnecting from everything else and just being in Hashem’s company. There is a special shul in Ramat Beit Shemesh called Kehilas Bnei HaYeshivos, where during the Shabbos morning kedushahI have felt this amazing connection to Hashem, like being raised to the Heavenly realm singing along with the angels. Such was the power of being connected together as one through the aspect of musical accompaniment.
By being in the company of another, two become connected. This is what Leah meant when she said: עַתָּה הַפַּעַם יִלָּוֶה אִישִׁי אֵלַי/now my husband will attach himself to me. In order to be connected, one has to be in another’s company.
Levi was also called so because of his future role within the Jewish People. When it came to the crunch, when Moshe said מִי לַה‘אֵלָי/who is for Hashem,7Levi was the only tribe to come forward and stand by Hashem. They were the ones who accompanied Hashem when it mattered the most. As a reward, they became Hashem’s escort; they were given the special task of carrying the Mishkan from place to place and were also given a דּוּכָן/platform in the Beis HaMikdash to accompany Hashem with musical accompaniment.One could say, therefore, that the לְוִיִםwere the ones to מְלַוֶה את הַמָּקוֹם/escort Hashem.
Hashem created a male and female Livyasan. Due to their prolific strength, and due to the threat that if they were to procreate they would take over the world, Hashem killed off the female and salted her meat to be preserved for the tzaddikimin the World to Come. The Gemara says that Hashem plays with the Livyasan every day.8Since Hashem took away his companion, Hashem keeps him company. Hence the name לִוְיָתָןin that Hashem accompanies him.
Levi was the only tribe that had no nachalah, no inheritance in the land; Hashem was their chelek/their portion. In ParshasRe’eh, Hashem warns us to be extremely careful not to neglect our duties of helping the poor, the orphan, the widow, the convert, and the Levi. We are commanded to open our hands to them and מַלְוֶהthem, meaning not only to lend them money but to escort them through life, to be there for them. As we see above, Rashi’s definition ofחֶסֶד וְאֶמֶת/true kindness is the kindness one does with the dead, where true chesedis when one doesn’t expect anything in return. Therefore, everyone has the opportunity to do חֶסֶד שֶׁל אֶמֶת, like burying the dead and being part of the levayah.More than we do for the poor man, the poor man does for us, because through our giving to him we merit Hashem’s reward.9
By lending and doing acts of chesed, we are connecting to Hashem; we are creating a circuit for Hashem’schesedto flow through. Taking, on the other hand, breaks the connection. By lending to the needy we are in effect lending to Hashem, because it is Hashem who promises to pay us back, middah k’neged middah. What goes around comes around; there is a circuit, a connection, where Hashem gives us back so that we can continue to give.
On the other hand, it is said וְעֶבֶד לוֶֹה לְאִישׁ מַלְוֶה/the borrower is a slave to the lender,10meaning that one who borrows from someone becomes indebted to him. So too we, whose lives are on loan from Hashem,11are born to be Hashem’s servants. This means that wherever Hashem goes, we go — that we are constantly making ourselves available to serve Hashem, putting ourselves out for Hashem, and attaching ourselves to Hashem. We do this through the aspect of לְוָיָה/accompaniment. By standing by Hashem, we become Hashem’s Levi, Hashem’s escort, Hashem’s helper, and we accomplish this by extending our hands to the needy, escorting the meis, and doing חֶסֶד שֶׁל אֶמֶת. In this way, we can be said to be walking arm-in-arm with Hashem, where in a true sense we are מְלַוֶה את הַמָּקוֹם/escorting Hashem.
4See Rashi to Brachos 18a.
5Toldos Yitzchakto Bereishis 47:29.
6Zohar, Shemos 333.
11See below, שאלה,Parshas Korach.