In Parshas Bamidbar, Hashem commands Moshe to count us again. This is done with a half shekel per person. In order to have a complete shekel, we must get together with our fellow Jew. It seems to me, this isn’t just a way of avoiding a plague, rather it is teaching us that though we are individuals, we need to be able to connect with another Jew in order to become worthy of being counted. This is echoed, as we stood at Ha Sinai, Ki’ish echad bi’lev echad. This is not only to avoid strife amongst us, but rather to acknowledge the need to be connected to each other. Part of the reason for this, is in order to be able to do chesed.
As Shavuos approaches, we consider ourselves blessed that we merited to receive the Torah. It seems to be no coincidence that Chazal tell us the Torah starts and ends with chesed – not only humans doing chesed, but Hashem doing chesed with Mankind: In the beginning of the Torah, He clothed Adam and Chava and in the closing of the Torah He buried Moshe Rabbeinu.
On Shavuos, the custom is to read Megillas Rus. There are many explanations for this custom. The Chida lists the Gemara in Sotah as one of the reasons we read Rus on Shavuos, which says that just like the Torah is filled with chesed, so too Megillas Rus is filled with chesed. We read Rus, at the time of kabbalas hatorah, in order to accentuate the importance of doing chesed. This idea is strengthened by another thought in the commentators. There are two megillos which we are obligated to read in completion: Rus and Esther. The reason for this is that both have in them a quality of mesiras nefesh for others: Rus gave up her future to care for her mother-in-law; and Esther, who gave up her private life and her marriage for all of the Jewish people, as the verse tells us “k’asher avaditi, avaditi” (if I will be lost, then I will be lost).
The Gemara in Sukkah 49B quotes the passuk of ותורת חסד על לשונה. The Gemara asks: Is there a Torah that has chesed and a Torah that doesn’t have chesed? The Gemara gives two answers. The first answer is that one who learns Torah for its own sake is Toras Chesed. The second answer is that Toras Chesed refers to one who learns in order to teach others. It seems to me that the common denominator of the two answers is that the person is learning for altruistic reasons. This is what is meant by Toras Chesed.
We too, when accepting upon ourselves the Torah, have to remember that it is incumbent upon all of us to do chesed, not only as a mitzvah bein adam l’chaveiro, but also as a prerequisite necessary to succeed in receiving the Torah.
May we merit at this time to accept upon ourselves not only an obligation of accepting Torah, but our obligation to do chesed as well.