The wisdom of kindness
This week’s Haftorah (Jeremiah Chapter 7 & 9) concludes with the powerful verse: “Thus says the Lord: let not the wise man praise and boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man of his strength, nor the rich man of his riches. But in this one should praise and exult, that he understands and knows Me, for I am the Lord who practises kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord.”
This, of course, advocates that we all study Torah regularly and vigorously to grow in our knowledge and understanding of G-d.
An observation of Jeremiah’s divine prophecy is how after G-d says that praise and exaltedness is appropriate only in the “understanding and knowing of G-d”, G-d then goes on to state that He practises kindness, justice etc.
Being proud of one’s wisdom, strength and riches can lead to a skewed and self-serving approach to life, people and creation. The wisdom of G-d leads to emulating G-d’s attributes of kindness, justice, etc.
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 27:1) tells us that when Alexander the Great visited a province in Africa, he told them he had come to see their laws.
As they were sitting, two men came before the king of the country for judgment. One said, “King, I bought a carob tree from this man and in scooping it out, I found a treasure underneath, so I said to him, ‘Take your treasure, for I bought the carob tree not the treasure.’” The other argued, “When I completed the sale, I sold you the carob tree and all that is therein.”
The king called one of them aside and asked him, “Do you have a son?” He replied, “Yes.” He then asked the other, “Do you have a daughter?” He replied, “Yes.” “Go and let them get married to each other and they can both enjoy the treasure,” the king said.
Alexander the Great was surprised. The king asked him, “Have I not judged well?” “Yes,” he assured him. “If this case had arisen in your country, what would you have done?” Alexander replied, “We would have removed both men’s heads and the treasure would have gone to the king.” He inquired of Alexander, “Does the sun shine in your country?” “Yes.” “Does rain fall in your country?” “Yes.” “Perhaps there are small cattle in your country?” “Yes.”
He then said to Alexander, “Woe to you. It’s because of the merit of the small cattle that the sun shines upon you and the rain falls upon you. For the sake of the small cattle, you are saved!” As it is written, “Man and animal do You rescue G‑d.” (Psalms 36:7).
The king’s message to Alexander was that when the inhabitants of a country conduct themselves improperly, they are devoid of merit to be helped by Hashem. Their animals, however, did nothing wrong and deserve Hashem’s attention. Thus, the inhabitants are helped through the merit of their animals.