Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: ” The paradigm of Israel.”

A person of Israel is said to be born with three basic qualities: pity, shyness, and kindness.

And it cannot be explained by comparing greater or lesser individuals or even by pointing to generations of teaching;

It is something that every Jew has, a character structure which belongs to the paradigm of Israel.

Thus, a person who does not exhibit these qualities is said to be not of the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–even though he may be a proper Jew in the sense that he performs the mitzvot.

There is a story in the Talmud of someone who went to Babylon and asked for help, and the Jews there did not come to his assistance, either with money or anything else;

And he wrote saying that these were evidently not Jews, but a mongrel community, because they failed to show kindness.

He did not inquire whether they prayed or put on tefillin or wore tzitzit.

The fact that they did not act naturally and spontaneously with kindness was decisive.

It is not that the Jew is a better person or that he may be necessarily characterized as a good person; it is rather that the qualities of pity and shyness and kindheartedness are an intrinsic part of him: they may even be considered his weaknesses.

Just as some people have a sensitive, musical ear, others have a “weakness” for other modes of experience.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz