Balanced Life – Parshas Yisro

There is a time and place for every trait. Sometimes one needs to be flexible and thoughtful and other times one needs to be tough and firm. So much of life is assessing the situation and determining the appropriate response intellectually and carrying it out whole-heartily. How does one find this balance?

Original Creation

The two extremes that we experience are that of chessed, kindness, versus din, judgment. We find these two polar forces existent in the world with all experiences falling either on kindness, judgment or somewhere in between. Sometimes we experience Hashem’s great kindness and other times we feel that we are experiencing great judgment and can be in pain. The original creation of the world contained these two components. Hashem wanted to create a perfect world with kindness and love. However, judgment dictated that man must earn his own portion in the world to come. Thus, Hashem created the world with kindness and allowed judgment to reign supreme (see Ramchal in Daas Tevunos about the shem Sha’kia). Ultimately, what is most fascinating is that the judgment was really for man’s best interest, in order to make him earn his reward and to thus experience it to the deepest degree. Hence, the judgment was really coming from a place of deep kindness.

Ten Commandments

Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that the aseres hadibros, Ten Commandments, express this construct as well. They consisted of two tablets. The first tablet held five commandments focused on kindness, expressing God’s rule, keeping Shabbos and respecting one’s parents, all positive, chessed aspects of life. The second set contained five commandments which all began with a negative command of something that one should not do such as “do not murder, do not commit adultery…” All of those last five commandments were representative of din, judgment. Yet, together they form the whole Ten Commandments. We see once again that life is divided between kindness and judgment.

Rabbeinu Bechaya (here and in Beshalach) also writes about how the two phrases of zachor (remember) and shamor (watch) are kindness and judgment respectively. These are the two variant descriptions given in the Ten Commandments when describing the keeping of the Shabbos in Parshas Yisro and Parshas Eikev. ‘Zachor’ refers to elevating Shabbos with Kiddush and celebration whereas ‘shamor’ refers to watching out from committing any of the Shabbos prohibitions and being liable to punishment. This explains why the Zohar (115b) writes, “zachor at day and shamor at night” as each trait represents kindness or judgment.


Washing Hands

The Jewish law is that one is supposed to wash his or her hands every morning upon arising. The procedure is to pick up the cup in the right hand, fill it up with water from the faucet and then to hand it to the left hand which then takes the cup and pours it onto the right hand. The rest of the six pouring actions are done while switching off hands. This ritual is the preferable method of carrying out the obligation. What is noteworthy is that right represents strength and kindness whereas left is weak and judgment. This is because the left hand is usually weaker and thus represents the force that is weak (judgment) in this world that is filled with Hashem’s kindness (Rabbeinu Bechaya in Kad Hakemach). When we lift the cup in our right hand we are expressing the fact that all things in this world come from God’s kindness. We then give it to the left showing that left (din) really stems and emanates from right (chessed). As human beings it is hard to see how painful judgment from God is really kindness, but this is the challenge of this world. When we begin our day, we recognize God’s love of us and how everything that He does is for the best.