“And when the time approached for Israel to die, he summoned his son Joseph and said to him, ‘Do me this favour’” Genesis 47:29
The story of Joseph is built on a wide range of human emotions. There is hatred and anger, jealously, pride, disappointment and despair. In the final chapters of the story, these powerful emotions give way to compassion and kindness.
As Jacob’s last days approach, his only wish is to be buried with his family in Hebron. The only one who can grant this is Joseph. Jacob knows well that Joseph’s mother, Rachel, lies buried in Bethlehem, because Jacob himself did not make the effort to bring her to Hebron. Jacob does not deserve to have his wish granted. He is dependent on the kindness of others.
The Torah has two different terms for kindness — chesed is the normal kindness that one shows another when he or she does something beyond the call of duty. But kindness is rarely without hope of reward. The fact that one has helped another creates an obligation which can be called upon in the future. Kindness is rarely altruistic.
Then there is the kindness that one does with no possibility of reward. This is chesed shel emet — kindness and truth. Such is the kindness we show when we show respect or provide a proper burial to a dead stranger. If you are in need of chesed shel emet, you are truly desperate. That is what Jacob is looking for.
And so the book of Genesis finishes with a beautiful scene in which Joseph sensitively promises his father to bring him to Hebron after his death. His love for his father transcends any anger he might have felt towards him.
When the time comes, it is the investment we have made in our relationships with others that really matters. And kindness makes a real difference.