Those who are kind benefit themselves,
but the cruel bring ruin on themselves. — Proverbs 11:17
There are many people with good intentions — people who are kind, generous, and make great sacrifices when it comes to giving. The problem is that they forget to take the same kind of care of the most important person in their lives: themselves.
While it may sound selfish to call ourselves “the most important person in our lives,” the truth is that if we want to help others, we have to begin with ourselves. Jewish sages taught that both a healthy body and soul are critical for serving God and giving to others. In Deuteronomy 4:9 we read, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely . . .” The sages explain this is a commandment to take care of ourselves. Only then can we be suitable vessels to serve others.
Notice that the commandment to love others is also phrased like this: “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). How can you love your neighbor if you don’t first love yourself? We can only give away what we ourselves possess. We can only give love if we have love. We can only give caring if we receive caring. We can only truly bestow kindness if we have been treated with kindness.
Often, the greatest way to serve others is by first giving ourselves what others need to be given.
It says in Proverbs: “Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.” A kind person is one who benefits himself. If we neglect ourselves and hurt our bodies or souls, we end up lashing out at others and becoming a cruel person.
An interesting story is told about Hillel the Elder (first century BCE) who, upon leaving his students, told them that he was on his way to fulfill a Divine commandment. The students asked Hillel which commandment in particular he intended to perform. To his surprised students, Hillel answered that he was going to the bathhouse. Hillel was teaching his students that it is a great service to God to take care of one’s own body.
In another story, Hillel announced to his students that he was on his way to do a kindness for a guest in his home. The students asked, “Do you always have a guest in your home?” Hillel replied that his soul was a guest in his body – here today, but gone one day – and that by eating, he was being kind to his guest.
Let’s all resolve to be extra kind and loving to the guest in our home. Let’s take care of ourselves so that we may care for others. When we are strong and loved, we have the strength and love to give to others.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President