Kind to Ourselves

Yael Eckstein  |  March 22, 2024

Yael kneels down to hand a doll to a young girl.

Those who are kind benefit themselves,
     but the cruel bring ruin on themselves
. — Proverbs 11:17

We continue with devotional thoughts from the Book of Proverbs every Friday. One of the 11 books in the Torah known as the Ketuvim, Hebrew for “writings,” Proverbs is part of the “wisdom tradition,” which also includes Job and Ecclesiastes.

When I first became a mother, I was so overjoyed that I didn’t mind the lack of sleep or missing a meal or two. But like every new mother, I quickly discovered that if I didn’t make my own needs a priority, I would eventually lose my strength. In order to take good care of my baby, I needed to take excellent care of myself.

Making our own wellbeing our top priority may sound selfish to some, but in truth, we can only help others if we first help ourselves. In Deuteronomy 4:9 we read, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely…” The Jewish sages explained that this injunction is a commandment to take care of ourselves. God gave us each a body, and it is our responsibility to take good care of it. Moreover, we need to be healthy—in body, mind, and soul—in order to serve God and care for others.

Kind to Ourselves

Similarly, Proverbs teaches, “Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.” When we are kind to ourselves, we are likely to show kindness to others. But, if we neglect or inadvertently harm ourselves, we are more likely to lash out and act cruelly.

There is a story told about Hillel the Elder (1st century BCE) who, upon leaving his students, announced that he was on his way to fulfill a divine commandment. When his students asked which commandment he intended to perform, he told them that he was going to take a bath at a bathhouse. In so doing, Hillel taught his students that taking care of one’s own body is a great service to God.

In another story, Hillel informed his students that he was on his way to do a kindness for a guest in his home. When the students asked if he always had guests in his home, Hillel explained 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 ever-present guest.

In the same way, we all need to be kind to the guest in our home. Our wellbeing is important to God, and it should be important to us, too. Moreover, the better we care for ourselves, the better we can serve God and care for others.

Your Turn:

How might you show yourself kindness today?