Code of Jewish Conduct

Here we are. Another Shivah Assar B’Tammuz. Another day to fast, as Mashiach still hasn’t yet arrived. As we try to find something meaningful to focus on, in an effort to distract ourselves from our grumbling stomachs, we invariably begin thinking along the lines of: what is preventing Mashiach from coming? And of course we all know the answer to that; even our little kids do: there is too much sinas chinam in the world, and not enough ahavas Yisrael.

But we try! We really do! We try not to speak lashon hara. We go out of our way to do favors for our neighbors. We watch the Chafetz Chaim Heritage Foundation’s video every Tishah B’Av, and come home all fired up and ready to put our inspiration into practice by being the nicest, most caring person around. Still, though, it seems that none of this is enough, as Shivah Assar B’Tammuz is here, the Three Weeks have begun, the calendar is blank of wedding dates for the next few weeks, and we are still in galus.

Perhaps if we knew what is expected of us in the area of bein adam l’chaveiro, we would be more in sync with our obligation to have ahavas Yisrael. Which is why so many people have found The Code of Jewish Conduct to be such an amazing and helpful sefer to own. The Code of Jewish Conduct is a comprehensive guide to the laws of interpersonal relationships. It goes through all the mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro that are in the Torah and clearly and concisely explains how they apply to us. It also includes plenty of stories and practical advice, which makes the sefer even more reader-friendly and enjoyable.

See how YOU can make a difference in your world. Buy this sefer—the lives it’ll enhance will also include your own!

Here is a sample chapter:

Chapter 22

ואהבת לרעך כמוך / והלכת בדרכיו

Love Your Fellow Man as Yourself/Walk in Hashem’s Ways

Kamocha” – As Yourself

Arriving early at school, Chavie dropped her schoolbag in a pile with the others and ran to join a quick game of jump rope until the bell would ring to signal the start of the school day. Her good friend Faigie drew up into the line right behind her, and they both waited for a turn to jump in.

“Oy, look – somebody’s schoolbag popped open and her notebooks are scattering on the floor,” Faigie said. “Maybe we should go pick them up and stuff them back in before they get stepped on.”

“Not now, Faigie. I don’t want to lose my turn.” Chavie shrugged her shoulders. “Let somebody else worry about it.”

“Hey, Chavie, isn’t that your schoolbag, and aren’t those your notebooks?” Faigie asked suddenly.

“What?!” Chavie ran out of line, forgetting all about her turn, and rushed to gather the items that had tumbled out of her bag. As she did so, she heard her teacher’s voice echoing in her mind: “Loving someone as yourself means caring about them as you care about yourself, and caring about their property as if it were your own.” Chavie blushed. Her early-morning experience had taught her that lesson more clearly than any lecture could have done.

The obligation to care for one’s fellow man is expressed in the Torah in the form of two separate but closely related mitzvos: “Ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha – Love your fellow man as yourself,” and “Vehalachta bidrachav – Walk in the ways of Hashem.” The scope of each of these mitzvos is defined differently by the various poskim.

According to one opinion, the mitzvah of ve’ahavta requires that we feel love in our hearts, which we express by refraining from doing anything to hurt our fellow man, and by making efforts to protect him from monetary loss, anguish and any affront to his dignity. On the other hand, the mitzvah of vehalachta bidrachav is the obligation to emulate Hashem by performing positive acts of kindness, just as Hashem acts with kindness toward His creations.

A second opinion makes a different distinction between the two mitzvos. According to this view, in addition to the obligation to feel love in one’s heart, the mitzvah of ve’ahavta also includes doing acts of chessed, while the mitzvah of vehalachta refers to the obligation to cleave to Hashem through refining our middos (which is commonly achieved by doing acts of chessed repeatedly). According to this opinion, even if you felt a powerful love in your heart for the other person, you will not have fulfilled the mitzvah of ve’ahavta until you did an actual act of chessed for him. At the same time, if you did a tremendous act of kindness for the person but did it in a cold, apathetic way, without being moved to increase your love for him, you may not have fulfilled the mitzvah of vehalachta. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:1)

Love Your Fellow man – Who Is Obligated?

“Love your fellow man as yourself; I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:18). The obligation to love one’s fellow man applies to men and women, rich and poor, in all places and at all times. Children should be trained in this mitzvah from a young age and should be encouraged both within the family circle and without to seek ways to make others feel good and to “fargin” – to take joy in the success of others.

The centrality of this mitzvah is stressed time and again in our sources. Rabbi Akiva called it “a great principle in the Torah.” Hillel Hazaken went so far as to say that the rule, “Do not do to your friend anything that would be loathsome to you [were you in his position],” is the crux of Torah; “The rest is just explanation.” Indeed, we find that many of the mitzvos in the Torah derive from this principle: the issurim of stealing, adultery, swindling, hurting with words, hatred, revenge, bearing a grudge and many others.

In order to carry out the mitzvah properly, it is not enough to consider how you – with your weaknesses and strengths – would feel under the circumstances. For example, you may be particularly thick-skinned and truly do not mind when others kid you about your faults. That does not give you license to joke at another person’s expense, rationalizing that “I wouldn’t care if he treated me that way.” Rather, you have to put yourself into the other person’s shoes and imagine how you would feel if you were he, and act toward him accordingly. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:2-3)

What Does the Mitzvah of Ve’ahavta Entail?

The Rambam explains the mitzvah of ve’ahavta as an obligation to love every Jew as you love yourself. In practice, this means that we should be concerned for his personal welfare and for the safety of his possessions as we are concerned for our own welfare and our own possessions. Just as we wish people would think and speak highly of us and would look out for our interests, so should we speak positively of our friend, look out for his honor and his possessions, and do what we can to protect him from any kind of loss.

If we truly feel love for another person, then we will be free of the nasty pangs of jealousy when he surpasses us in financial success, reputation, intellectual achievements and so on. In fact, we will feel personal joy in his success, just as we would feel at our own. King Shaul’s son Yonasan achieved this level in his boundless love for David, which was untainted by envy, even when the position of king was taken from Yonasan and given to David. If we could all adopt this attitude, we would have a sure formula for peace and harmony. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:4-5)

Vehalachta Bidrachav – How?

In three different places the Torah commands us the mitzvah to “Walk in His [Hashem’s] ways” (Devarim 28:9; see also ibid. 11:22 and ibid. 13:5). Chazal ask the obvious question: “How can a mortal man walk in the way of the Shechinah? Isn’t the Shechinah a ‘consuming fire’?” How can we be expected to model ourselves in the image of such an inaccessibly lofty Reality? Chazal answer by explaining that the mitzvah is to try and cleave to Hashem by emulating His acts of kindness – performing acts of chessed, clothing the needy, visiting the sick, consoling mourners and burying the dead, as we see in the Torah that Hashem did (e.g., He visited Avraham when he was sick, consoled Yitzchak after Avraham’s death, buried Moshe Rabbeinu, etc.).

This mitzvah too applies to men and women, in all places and at all times. If a person does not make a conscious effort to improve his behavior, overcome his yetzer hora and refine his thoughts and deeds to love Hashem and follow in His ways, then he will have violated this positive mitzvah.

In certain cases, a dignified and honorable person may be exempt from engaging in acts toward his fellow man that flow from the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta,” when it would be beneath his dignity to do so. On the other hand, acts that derive from the mitzvah of “vehalachta bidrachov” (such as visiting the sick, showing hospitality to guests, participating in burial of the dead, and gladdening chassan and kallah) apply even in the case of a great Torah scholar attending to the needs of an ordinary person (as will be explained).

Educating Children in Doing Chessed

Children should be trained in this mitzvah as well, and should be reminded from time to time that when we are kind to others, we are imitating the ways of Hashem, Who is so kind to us.

In the same context, it seems fitting to point out here how important it is to involve children – both boys and girls – in helping at home. Besides the obvious fulfillment of the mitzvah of kibbud av va’em, the child who learns to pull his weight in the realm of household responsibilities, especially in helping out his younger siblings, is getting “on-the-job training” in vehalachta bidrachav. In addition, participating in the family effort teaches him how to be nosei be’ol – to share the burden, instead of expecting to have others serve him, and it also fosters several other valuable middos, such as zerizus (alacrity) and chessed.

These goals are so important that we would be well advised to give children jobs in the house even if it might be easier to get the work done without their “assistance.” Also, we should keep in mind that our main goal is to educate the child and cultivate willing effort on his part, not necessarily to benefit from his work; therefore, we should not be sticklers for perfect results. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:1, 7-8)

Unconditional Love

“Give me a piece of your new stationery, and I’ll be your best friend.…”

“I applied for a job in the office where you work. Could you recommend me to your boss?”

“Sure, on condition that you speak to your brother-in-law to help get my son into his yeshivah.…”

Some people are always willing to do a favor – as long as they are getting something in return. Their so-called “love” is actually an expression of their unspoken motto: “You take care of me, and I’ll take care of you.” This can be compared to the person who claims that he “loves fish.” “If so,” he is told, “why do you kill them and eat them? Why don’t you throw them back into the water? It is clear that the one you love is yourself!”

Genuine ahavas Yisrael and gemilus chessed does not work that way. When we love our fellow Jews and help them out, our act should in no way be tied to expectations of gaining anything in return from the other person. Just as Hashem is merciful, gracious and giving to His creations without expecting anything in return, so are we expected to conduct ourselves in the same way with every other Jew, whether he is a relative, a friend or a total stranger. This is one of the hallmarks of the Jewish people, and is a theme that runs through the entire Torah, which begins with chessed – Hashem’s clothing Adam and Chava – and concludes with chessed – Hashem’s burying Moshe Rabbenu.

True love is the ability to give purely for the sake of benefiting the other person. The act of giving must not be geared toward bringing pleasure to ourselves; on the contrary, we are willing to relinquish our own comfort and pleasure so that the object of our love will benefit. In our genuine love for every other Jew, we are concerned for his physical, emotional and financial well-being as well as for his personal honor. It was with this selfless love that Hashem created the world, and by emulating this genuine love when we relate to others, we fulfill the mitzvah of following in His ways. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:9)

Your Life Comes First

Although the two mitzvos of ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha and vehalachta bidrachav require us to be genuinely concerned for another person’s needs, there is a different passuk that limits this concern to a certain extent: “Vechei achicha imach – And your brother shall live with you” (Vayikra 25:36). Chazal deduce from these words that your life takes precedence over your friend’s life. Consider the example of two people who are travelling through the desert, and only one of them has a flask of water. If they both drink from it, they will both die of thirst; but if only one drinks from it, he will reach a settlement and survive. The halachah in this case states that the owner of the water should drink all the water in order to save himself in the long run, rather than give half of it to his friend, which will save them both but only for a short time. This ruling is based on the principle of “your life comes first.”

In earlier times, before there were modern, sophisticated water systems, people were dependent on the water source near their town. If two cities shared one water source, the halachah allowed residents of the city that was situated higher up to obstruct the water from flowing downward until they had drawn enough water for their own drinking needs, because of the principle of “your life comes first.”

After the people of the lower city had gotten their necessary share of drinking water, those of the higher-up city could again obstruct the water flow so that their animals could drink, because, according to the same principle, their animals take precedence over the animals of others. So too, their need to do laundry using that water precedes others’ need to launder.

In fact, some are of the opinion that in a case where inability to do laundry will cause the higher-up community great discomfort, then water for the laundry needs of that city would take precedence even over the life-sustaining drinking water of the lower city. (This principle probably applies only in a case where the people of the lower city are able to acquire water from another source, albeit for pay. Otherwise, it would be forbidden for members of the upper city to do laundry at the expense of the lives of residents in the lower city, based on the mitzvah of lo saamod al dam reiacha.) (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:10-11)

Your Needs Come First

Following the same principle, your personal livelihood takes precedence over someone else’s livelihood. Therefore, we are not obligated to give tzedakah to support others unless we have enough money for our own basic needs.

The same applies to other acts of chessed; while we are obligated to help others, we are not required to do so if it will lead to damage to ourselves. For example, if someone asks for our help in doing some work, we do not have to take time off from our own work and suffer a monetary loss in order to help him in his work. Nor are we expected to invest time and effort to do work for another instead of taking care of the same matter for ourselves.

Certainly, in a case where we would not have done that act for ourselves at all, we would not be obligated to do that same act for others. For example, if a revered Rosh Yeshivah would not ordinarily carry bags of groceries through the street for his own family, as it is beneath his dignity, then he would not be required to do so to help another person. (However, there are certain matters, such as simchas chassan vekallah and burying the dead, for which the mitzvah of vehalachta bidrachav would still oblige us to act, as we will discuss in later chapters.)

An important exception to this rule is in matters that affect one’s wife. Chazal tell us that a husband should love his wife exactly as he loves himself and honor her even more than he honors himself. Therefore, for the sake of his wife a man would be obligated to exert himself even in acts that he would not perform for the sake of his own needs. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:12-13)

Your Spiritual Needs Take Precedence

“Binyamin, what are you doing up at one o’clock in the morning?” Mr. Rosenberg asked his twelve-year-old son in surprise.

“I’m almost finished reviewing the Gemara for tomorrow’s test, Abba. I’ll go to sleep soon,” Binyamin explained.

“But, Binyamin, why are you studying so late? How will you be able to concentrate tomorrow morning?” Mr. Rosenberg’s eyes radiated genuine concern.

“Well, I got home at six, but then Shmuel called and asked me to explain one difficult point to him, and then when I finished with that, Reuven knocked at the door and asked if I could learn with him the part he missed when he was sick, and then Shauli called, and before I turned around, it was eleven, and I hadn’t started doing my own reviewing,” Binyamin responded with a gaping yawn.

“Binyamin, I’m proud of you for being so helpful to all your friends, and I don’t want to discourage you from doing that, but your learning has to come first. And that’s not just my opinion – it’s the halachah,” Mr. Rosenberg said definitively.

The principle of “your life comes first” prevails in the spiritual realm as well. A person may not give time to another when he needs that time to fulfill his own halachic requirements. Similarly, he cannot put the Torah learning of others before his own Torah learning.

Nevertheless, the poskim do indicate that some time should be dedicated to helping others in their Torah study – perhaps a tenth of one’s time, or, according to some sources, even a fifth. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:13)

Your Lost Object Takes Precedence

When David and Shlomo got off the bus that brought them home from yeshivah, they were appalled to find that their suitcases were not in the baggage compartment. Shlomo was in a rush to get home, so he gave up on searching for the suitcase and decided that he would call the bus company later. David, however, was determined to trace his missing item immediately.

He walked back toward the previous bus stops and, sure enough, after a half-hour trek, he found the two suitcases on the sidewalk. Apparently, someone had taken them out of the baggage compartment to get at his own bag and had forgotten to put them back in.

Now what? He couldn’t possibly carry both of the heavy suitcases, and he didn’t have money to hail a taxi. There was no one around to help him, and he did not know anyone in the area. On the other hand, if he left one of the suitcases there, it might get stolen. What should he do?

If you lose an object and then come across both your own lost object and that of your friend, then if you can return both, you must do so. But if that is not possible, your own object takes precedence over that of others (even those that belong to your Rav or father). Chazal derive this halachah from the posuk, “There shall be no poor man among you” (Devarim 15:4) – we are required to protect ourselves from poverty and financial loss. The same rule would apply in any case where performing a mitzvah bein adam lechaveiro would cause us monetary loss or would cause us to neglect our job.

However, even though halachah provides us with this “out,” the proper conduct is to go beyond the letter of the law and not be overly particular about giving our own property priority when the loss is not a certainty but is only a possibility. If a person is so meticulous about protecting his interests that he constantly wheedles his way out of helping others, it is considered as if he has thrown off the yoke of chessed. In the end, his punishment will be that he himself will be forced to rely on the help of others. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:14-15)

Miscellaneous Applications

Chazal tell us that in a case where one person benefits from another without causing loss to him, there is no need for the beneficiary to pay. For example, if Reuven illegally squats on Shimon’s empty dwelling but does not cause loss to Shimon by living there, then in some cases, even though Reuven used the property without permission, he is not required to pay Shimon. However, if the owners protest from the outset, then the user would have to either pay or vacate the premises.

These rules apply only to real estate, not to moveable property. In the case of moveable property, using an item without explicit permission would be considered theft. The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) explains the numerous detailed rules that govern this area.

At times we find that Chazal allow us to force a person to cooperate with another when he is displaying senseless selfishness (known as “middas Sedom”). Chazal also advise us that a person should not wastefully empty his well when others need the water. This principle applies to a variety of circumstances. In places where the beis din was authorized to do so, beis din could apply pressure and even use lashes or excommunication to prevent him from acting in these ways. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:16-17)

Interrupting Torah Learning

When there is a mitzvah that cannot be delegated to another or is incumbent on the person himself to fulfill, he must interrupt his Torah learning in order to perform it. If others could theoretically carry out the mitzvah but are lazy about doing so, it is considered as if they aren’t there, and in that case as well, he must stop his learning to do the mitzvah. However, after the mitzvah is completed he should return to his learning as soon as possible.

Talmud Torah derabbim – public learning – is in a different category from individual learning, and opinions differ on the question of when such learning may be interrupted, for example, to attend a funeral or a wedding. Some say that even public Torah learning or a shiur may be interrupted for the performance of such a mitzvah. Others maintain that talmud Torah derabbim may be interrupted only to recite the obligatory first passuk of Krias Shema.

Yet others maintain that only when the speaker is a great talmid chacham, who stimulates his listeners to do teshuvah through his inspiring words, should there be no interruption. Otherwise, even a public shiur should be interrupted for the performance of a mitzvah such as attending a funeral or wedding.

We mentioned above that when a person can delegate the performance of a chessed to someone else, he should not stop learning to do the chessed. However, where he is presented with an opportunity to do a specific mitzvah, such as giving tzedakah, returning lost objects, or even a rabbinically ordained mitzvah, the sources seem to imply that, although he is not obliged to, he is allowed to fulfill the mitzvah even though his Torah learning will be interrupted. If in doubt, he should consult a Rabbinic authority. However, one should not go looking for other mitzvos at times when one should be learning.

Women and girls, though not obligated in Torah learning for its own sake, can miss vital lessons in practical halachah or in yiras Shamayim if they are absent from school unnecessarily. They should certainly think twice before missing such a class, the price of which may be lifelong ignorance of a particular topic in halachah or hashkafah (Jewish thought). In addition, neither students nor their teachers, who must adhere to the structured requirements of their school, should leave class to attend any levayah that passes by. In a sense, they are considered anoos – forced to refrain from doing the mitzvah – since anyone associated with a specific institution has no choice but to follow its governing rules.

When it comes to hachnassas kallah, halvayas hameis and other, similar mitzvos, even though these mitzvos could be fulfilled by others, a person should interrupt his learning as much as is necessary to ensure that they are carried out properly, with the requisite honor, as will be explained in upcoming chapters.

Regarding Shabbos preparations, the Rema says specifically that a person should take some time from his Torah learning in order to take part, at least in some small way, in preparing for Shabbos, even if he has a staff of servants who could do the work in his stead. It is also well known that, throughout the generations, Gedolei Torah would interrupt their Torah learning in order to personally take part in other mitzvos, such as baking matzos, building the sukkah and the like. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:18-20)

Relatives Take Precedence

“I’m looking for a babysitter to take my children out for a few hours today. I’m recovering from surgery, and I must get some rest,” Mrs. Danziger explained to the secretary of the community chessed committee.”

“Danziger … Danziger … that name sounds familiar,” the secretary muttered. “Say, isn’t your daughter the one in charge of all the volunteer work in the local high school?”

“Yes, that’s her,” Mrs. Danziger sighed. Her daughter was a real doer – out helping everyone in the world … except her own family.

Just as relatives take precedence in the mitzvah of tzedakah, so should they be first priority in all mitzvos of chessed. Therefore, we are obligated to care for our parents’ needs before tending to the needs of our children (assuming that it does not impinge too much on the smooth running of the household, depending on the situation), our children’s needs before those of our siblings, and so on. Similarly, the needs of our community take precedence over those of another city, and the needs of a talmid chacham take precedence over those of a layman (as explained in Yoreh Deah 251).

A common illustration of this principle is the housewife who will be unable to attend to the needs of her own home properly if she goes to do chessed for another family. It is important to keep in mind that just as a person cannot give tzedakah from funds he should be using to pay his belated debts, so a woman cannot extend herself for the sake of others before she carries out her obligations to her own family. Her household takes precedence. For example, when time and energy is limited, a mother should give higher priority to baking a cake for her own children for Shabbos than to doing so for the local bar-mitzvah chessed society.

An exception would be a case where in doing a chessed for others, her intention is to teach her children important lessons. For example, by sending food to a neighbor who is an almanah, she hopes to show her children how we must cater to the special needs of others; or by preparing elaborately for guests, she teaches her children that orchim are to be served better and more plentiful food. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:21)

To Whom, and How, Do These Mitzvos Apply?

We are obligated to love and do chessed for all Jews – poor and rich, men and women, children, people of unsound mind and even people who are no longer alive. Acts of kindness to the deceased (such as burying and eulogizing them) are of particular value, because we perform such acts without any expectation of reward. Included in the mitzvah of chessed is offering gemachim (free lending arrangements) of utensils, books, money and any other items or services that are needed. Another valuable form of chessed is giving good counsel and advice to others.

There is no mitzvah to love akum (although in some cases, for the sake of peace and to avoid hostility, we are compelled to conduct ourselves in a manner of ahavah, such as by visiting their sick or burying their dead). Likewise, there is no obligation to love those in the various categories of extreme sinners – apikorsim, minim, meisisim, mumarim lehach’is and informers. According to some opinions, in the case of any rasha whom we are permitted to hate, we are not required to relate to him with the mitzvah of ve’ahavta. (See Volume I, chapter 2.)

On the other hand, the Torah demands that we be caring even toward someone who is to be executed by the beis din, in which case the mitzvah of ve’ahavta applies. Although we are required to execute him, we are obligated to spare him any unnecessary pain, disgrace or disfigurement.

We have to be especially careful regarding geirim, converts, since besides the mitzvos of ve’ahavta and vehalachta bidrachav, there is an additional obligation to “love the ger” (Devarim 10:19) and to “love him as [you love] yourself, because you yourselves were geirim in Mitzrayim” (Vayikra 19:34). Similarly, one must show special sensitivity toward widows and orphans.

Therefore, we have to be particularly careful to treat geirim, widows and orphans lovingly and to refrain from hating them or doing anything that may be distressing to them or cause them pain. On the contrary, we should be concerned for their honor and their financial security as if it were our own and do for them all that we would want others to do for us. The same applies in all the other mitzvos of kindness. (For more details on geirim, almanos and yesomim, see Volume I, chapter 9.)

Although this halachic requirement refers specifically to a ger tzedek, we can deduce from here the importance of being supportive to anyone who is a stranger to his surroundings, such as an immigrant in a foreign country, a new member of a particular group or society, a baal teshuvah or even a new boy in yeshivah. Such people are more vulnerable, more easily taken advantage of and less capable of helping themselves. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:6, 22-25)

The Common Denominator

The mitzvah of ve’ahavta lereiacha kamocha is closely connected to almost every mitzvah bein adam lechaveiro. Therefore, if we violate any one of these mitzvos, in most cases we also violate the mitzvah of ve’ahavta. Examples of this would be the prohibitions against stealing, causing damage, adultery, onaas devarim, nekimah, netirah, not judging favorably, striking, cursing and speaking lashon hara.

On the other side of the coin, when we fulfill any one of these mitzvos, and when we perform any acts of tzedakah or chessed – such as unloading or loading someone else’s animal, saving a life, returning lost property, honoring parents, visiting the sick, hosting guests, comforting mourners, attending to the burial of the dead, and so on – we also fulfill the mitzvah of ve’ahavta.

The Rambam wrote, “It is a positive Rabbinic mitzvah to: visit the sick, console the bereaved, escort the deceased, bring a kallah to the chuppah, accompany guests, and occupy oneself with all the needs of a burial – carrying the aron of the meis on one’s shoulder, walking in front of him, eulogizing him, digging the grave and burying him – and also bringing simchah to the chassan and kallah and providing them with all their needs. These are acts of chessed that one personally exerts oneself to perform and that have no set maximum measure.

“Even though all these mitzvos are rabbinically ordained, they are all included under the general mitzvah of ve’ahavta lereiacha kamocha; anything that you would want other people to do for you, so should you do for every Jew who lives according to the laws of Torah and mitzvos.” (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:6, 26-28)

The Four Special Categories of Chessed

The halachah provides us with certain guidelines and rules of precedence to use when two different acts of chessed conflict with each other. For example, if a funeral procession and a bridal entourage meet on a road, the funeral procession should make way for the kallah. If there are not enough people in the city to both bury the meis and accompany the kallah, precedence should be given to accompanying the kallah; the meis should be buried afterward.

However, once the kallah has been brought to the chuppah, and you have the option of consoling the aveilim or dancing for the chassan, consoling the aveilim takes precedence. Similarly, providing the seu’das havra’ah – the first meal for the aveilim – takes precedence over taking part in the seudah for the chassan and kallah. However, this principle applies only when you have sufficient resources to perform both mitzvos. If not, preference is given to providing a seudah for the chassan and kallah. The same rule applies regarding other relevant honors – for instance, precedence is given to a chassan and his entourage, before the aveil and his consolers, in leaving the shul.

When you have to choose between attending a burial and attending a bris, precedence is given to a bris. However, if the deceased is a meis mitzvah, where there is no one but you to take care of burying him, the burial takes precedence, as a meis mitzvah takes precedence over all other mitzvos of the Torah. (These rules are explained in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 374.)

According to the Rambam, nichum aveilim takes precedence over visiting the sick, because when you console an aveil, you are doing a chessed both for the living and for the dead. However, some are of the opinion that this applies only when you won’t be able to perform both mitzvos. However, when you will be able to do both, visiting the sick comes first, because it gives you the opportunity to fulfill his needs and pray for him.

The Rambam enumerates specific chessed requirements in relation to five categories of people: a) the sick; b) the deceased; c) mourners; d) the chasan and kallah; e) guests. The details of the laws pertaining to each of these five categories are explained elsewhere in these volumes. (Other halachas of tzedakah are explained in Yoreh Deah Vol 3 and in sefer Ahavas Chessed.) (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:6, 28-33)

In summary: The mitzvos of ve’ahavta lereiacha kamocha and vehalachta bidrachav require us to love our fellow Jews and emulate Hashem’s middos by doing chessed for others. We should care for the well-being and the possessions of others as we care for our own. However, when helping others may cause harm to us, we act in accordance with the principle of “your life comes first.” This applies in cases involving financial loss, Torah study, retrieving a lost object, and in other matters. Particular attention should be given to loving geirim, widows and orphans. Specific laws govern priorities regarding chessed done with the sick, the deceased and mourners, the chasdan and kallah, and guests.

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