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Day 2 – Mining the Heart

A person with enough self-discipline and persistence can force himself to
perform an act of chesed, even if he has no real desire to do it. A more
difficult task is to force oneself to love chesed when the feeling doesn’t
seem to be present in one’s heart. This is a far greater challenge, but it
cannot be an impossibility, simply because the Torah never commands the
impossible. Therefore, one must assume that within each Jew dwells the
capacity to love chesed, even if a person must dig deeply within himself to
search for the emotion.

Such a search, conducted by a simple Jew, provided a lifetime of
inspiration for the chassidic rebbe, Rabbi Bunim of Pshis’che. Rabbi Bunim
spent his early years as a businessman. In his constant business travels,
he used every interaction as a means to bring Jews closer to Hashem. On one
such journey, he stopped at an inn on a cold, stormy night. The Jewish
innkeeper found in Rabbi Bunim a sympathetic ear for his tale of a failing
business. The peasants no longer came to him, vats of liquor sat untouched
in the basement and the landlord was growing impatient for the rent. Rabbi
Bunim spoke with the man for awhile, and then sat down to learn.

In the middle of the night, there was a loud knock on the door. A traveler,
drenched and freezing, begged the innkeeper to admit him, even though he
had no money with which to pay. The innkeeper sighed at his misfortune – he
finally had a customer, but even this wouldn’t bring him any money.
Nevertheless, he helped the traveler. He let him in, gave him a change of
clothing and a room for the night. The traveler, however, was still
shivering. “Could you bring me some vodka, please?” he asked. “I don’t have
any money, but I’m so cold.”

The innkeeper went to the basement to tap into his vodka supply for the
first time in weeks – once again, for no profit. He didn’t notice that
Rabbi Bunim was there, watching him. What the rabbi saw, however, struck
him so powerfully that he told of the scene for the rest of his life. The
innkeeper poured a cup of vodka, then shook his head firmly and smashed the
cup to the floor. Once, twice, three times, four times he repeated this
procedure, oblivious to the sin of wastefulness he was committing. Finally,
upon pouring the fifth cup, he happily proclaimed, “Now!” and brought the
vodka to his guest.

Rabbi Bunim asked the innkeeper to explain his strange behavior. The
explanation was touchingly simple. He couldn’t serve the guest a drink he
had poured with disappointment and resentment in his heart. He knew he had
been handed a golden mitzvah – a chance to revive a shivering, hungry, poor
man, yet his financial worries were clouding his ability to appreciate this
gift. He tried and tried again, until he reached the vein of ahavas chesed
that was within him. Then, satisfied that he was doing his act of kindness
with a full heart, he brought the man his drink.

Step by Step

Today, I will think of a method to invoke enthusiasm for a chesed I
regularly do that sometimes causes me annoyance.


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