Gimiloot Hesed: Acts of kindness
As the Religious Equivalent of Therapy

The responsibility for every Jew to fulfill the obligation of ‘acts of kindness’ originates in two primary underlying Torah Mitzvos (commandments): ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ and ‘You shall walk in Gods ways’. One can not over estimate the significance of these pillars of Torah. It is impossible to imagine Torah and Torah oriented life without these sign posts.

Acts of kindness are operationally defined by later Rabbinical decree. They described three different types of actions that constitute Acts of Kindness.

  1. giving money - financial assistance
  2. giving of your body - physical assistance
  3. giving advice - from your knowledge

Of the three types of behavior the third one is, of course, our concern. It is important to note that giving advice relates to the two characteristics given to man at the creation: the power of speech and free will to decide. Here is the simple conceptual framework and technique that replaces the word/train of the secular world - therapy. An act of kindness that exploits the two absolutely unique gifts of God. Return to the roots to ‘touch’ man in a way that is totally congruent with Torah.

We mentioned a number of times words are like trains - we think we use them, but they take us where they are going. Therapy takes us to one place while Gilimoot Hesed - acts of kindness - takes us somewhere else.

In the original Hebrew the concept is made up of two words. The first comes from the roots with two diverse meanings: the first - ‘to pay or repay’; the second meaning is ‘to wean’. The first is significant for our discussion.

What evolves from understanding the act of giving advice within the framework of ‘pay or repay’ gives amazing depth to the seemingly simple act. Let us assume I am giving advice to someone I have never met. I owe him nothing from the secular therapy point of view. From our point of view I am in debt, but not to him, but to God who gave me many things, including my ability to help people. Our Sages make the relationship a triangular one. I, the giver in present, am also a receiver of good from the ultimate source of all things, and I am ‘paying him back’ by passing it on. Beyond helping other person this act of ‘repaying’ also is of significant benefit to the giver. Every act of kindness to another also contributes to the giver in the following ways: each act of kindness further refines the character as one who is aware of the needs of others and our common destiny; it is an act of fulfilling an obligation - an act of self discipline; it is an act of gratitude.

Here we see the exquisite intricacy of what appears to be a simple act. From the standpoint of secular therapy relationships are seen in a much more finite fashion. On the other hand religious reality deals with the infinite dimensions of an unbounded soul.

How does an Act of Kindness - advise - reach the soul and activate those strengths we, religious talkers, know to be there. These assumptions flow directly from the map used as the starting point for the understanding of man: Torah. A religious diagnosis not only uses a different vocabulary but also a different prism.

Acts of Kindness are one small part of a larger context of Torah. It is important to identify the underlying laws that form largest Babushka. The central laws concerning our behavior are as follows:

  2. Eternal truths are obligatory - Torah is defined - characterized - by exacting behavioral laws that clearly define how, when, where, and why a person should act in all areas of life.
  4. There is no neutrality in Torah - no free time, everything is important, no ‘I don’t care’. You are either moving in the right direction or not.
  6. There is a right way - and a unique way within the broad confines of Torah. Because of uniqueness all these rules mentioned above are flexible and to be understood within the context of the individual (up to a point). This means that modern norms have little or not place in our conversations.
  8. Values are explicated, but do not obligate anyone but yourself. Our work starts with ourselves. That usually is enough work for one lifetime.
  10. Torah is a complete and accurate description of man and his eterna nature and therefore Torah does not legislate against the nature of man. Laws that appear’ to be in conflict with our modern science of people or psychology knowledge - are wrong. l material problems have spiritual solutions, but spiritual problems don’t have material solutions. The spiritual side is stronger then the physical side. This rule holds only when basic physical needs have been met.
  12. Men and women are different - this should be celebrated and exploited in helping conversations. Men and women are equal - but have different physical and spiritual roles and abilities.
  14. The power of Tshuva (the ability for sudden significant change) is a fact of life, not theory and should be exploited when giving advice. This means that any theory of therapy that has predetermined time frames is ignoring this spiritual truth. Solution oriented conversations are based on the idea that any conversation could be the last.
  16. We are obligated to judge others positively and to speak accordingly. Listening to complaints about others - or asking questions that lead to this behavior are prohibited.
  18. Anger is a negative forbidden emotion and should be avoided even in the helping process. This emotion is always defined by Torah as wrong. Talking about it only engenders or justifies it. Our model avoids this while ‘taking care’ of what is called anger in a way that is conducive to Torah - and is therefore healthy.
  20. We are commanded to strive, but not to succeed. Our conversations focus on minimal starts and not on complete solutions or norms like ‘health’.
  22. Acts of Kindness of all types (monetary, physical, and advice giving) are acts between equals. Equals who are at this particular moment in different circumstances.

This issue of egalitarian relationships is of major significance and requires further development. Three types of ‘therapeutic’ relationships can be identified. The following models describe archetypes of how therapists relate to their clients. They are not totally independent of each other but represent basic types of behaviors. They are illustrative and not exact.

The first example is called The Traditional Professional Relationship’, depicted in Model 1.





In this model the ‘therapists’ personal life is wider, richer, and deeper - and for the most part hidden from the client. He brings his professional knowledge, language, and behavior to the therapeutic process. He separates his private life from his professional activities. His advice does not necessarily represent his own personal beliefs or how, in fact, how he himself behaves. He may know everything about his client, but the client may know little or nabout his therapist. His professional model takes precedent over personal ideas and values. His model will determine how he acts with his client.

Model 3 is called Supertherapist. In this model the therapists private life is limited and maybe even emotionally restricted. In contrast in his professional activities he is warm, open and successful. All too often the therapist as person is not very nice. I remember while in training many of my teachers were not very nice people, but they asked, taught, demanded from us to be perfect professionals. This incongruity indicates one of two problems: either two different rules for behavior - personal vs. Professional or and inability to implement one type of professional rules because of personal problems. Examples of this might be a therapist who is an alcoholic in private life yet works with people to stop that particular problem. Or he may be a violent person but a gentle professional and advises against violence.

Model 2 is a religious model. Here the straight lines indicate that the therapists’ private life and professional life are highly congruent. How he talks at home - he talks at the office. What he holds for himself he advises others also to do. His beliefs and obligations are an open book to his client. He is motivated by religious obligation and helped by secular technique. This does not mean the helper/therapist is perfect. Rather his knows what is right, even if at one particular moment he is unable to accomplish it. He understands what is the ultimate welfare of himself and his client. He is also well aware that each persons will achieve this welfare through unique means.

We stated earlier that the Act of Kindness relationship is triangular. So the criteria for “professional” behavior and “success” are quite different. Options of goals are limited by the advisors obligations and limitations. He can’t treat everything. Breaking or helping break eternal and universal laws is not an option. Help him marry out of his religion, support an abortion,

His options of behavior towards the client is much wider because he will relate to the “other” person just that way - a follow traveler. Another human who is struggling - not unlike himself.

I remember one time I was unsuccessfully struggling to help a young man who was living in a dirty water filled basement. All his shirts were covered with drops of blood from picking open sores on his face. I brought food for him, helped get the water out of his prison. Talked about life, love and just things. I tried all my best technical tricks. One night while complaining to my wife about my inability help she suggested that we invite him to live with us. An invitation to a Jew in need. Would a traditional professional therapy model allow for this type of ‘non’ professional (but religious) behavior? Have a client for the Sabbath weekend? A option for a religious therapist, but questionable for a secular professional (or a therapist who is religious).


Giving to others is the starting point of Jewish law - Gimiloot Hesed . What to give is also defined by this law. We are focusing on one of the three categories most relevant to our subject: offering assistance by talking. There are a myriad styles of talking. Reproach, stories, teaching, demanding, pleading, arguing, just to name a few. We will focus on one particular type that in part cuts across some of the above categories but can be seen as a basic type unto itself. This type talking is called Judging Favorably. It is a commandment for all Jews for all generations.

Judging favorably demands of the listener/observer to assign to what appears to be negative behavior a positive meaning or explanation. An example for everyday life: A friend comes late. Before you ask for a explanation for this ‘rude’ behavior you might think which is a sign of not caring for you or just incompetent planning. As a religious alternative you may follow the commandment to judge favorably and assign to this behavior a positive explanation, “there must have been some emergency that he had to attend to and that is what delayed him.”

A clinical example may be also of some help. A father was referred to the author after the courts mandated therapy because of child abuse. The court appointed therapist had not been able to get the fathers cooperation and rather then place him in custody he referred him to me. I approached the father from the point of judging him favorably: he loved his son and wanted to save the son from the boys delinquent behavior. He had no other way to express his desire and felt this was the only way. I told him that he must be terribly frustrated and misunderstood. He agreed and we began to work together to ‘save’ the son in a more effective style that would help the boy and allow the father to express his love in a more positive manner.

When I can’t think of a positive explanation or meaning to a certain behavior I think of the following revolutionary message that flows directly from Judging favorably: The source of every failure is an aspiration.

When a child fails, or the person feels alone and unwanted we can search for the aspiration behind the present situation. The child wanted a better grade. What can be done next to help him achieve it. The lonely person is being pushed by the loneliness to move towards another. He aspires to fulfill that need. The need is positive while the actual immediate behavior is not be (effective or pleasant).

This particular commandment - like all Torah commandments - is multifaceted. Concealed within this single act is a richness that exerts significant influence on people and their surroundings. 1. it refines the character in the direction of positive warm actions. 2. it brings people closer together. 3. It gets us to explain rather then complain. 4. It keeps us away from slandering others. 5. It prevents anger. 6. It is solution oriented and not problem enhancing. 7. Contributes to greater physical health (lower blood pressure, less stress, more friendships). 8. Sets up positive expectations for future behavior. 9. It is written that you will be judged as you judge others.

I have found that many people have reservations about doing this - in spite that it is a commandment. Many ask - what about the ‘truth’? After all, he was late! The answers (plural) are complex. Yes, he was late. The question is what do you want to achieve?

  1. let off steam - let him know you are angry?
  2. reproach him?
  3. correct the situation and find a solution?
  4. control yourself?
  5. judge him favorably?
  6. say nothing?

I have found that there are three ways people can carry out this simple but amazingly difficult commandment.


The first is that they do it because they are commanded to do so - - in spite of strong emotional and intellectual reasons not to.

The second is once doing it they are rather pleased with the positive response to their behavior. They see the positive benefits the Sages meant to be.

The third is that they see the deeper truth behind the negative explanations and feelings that are all too common in our society. Thinking twice about any event allows us to see alternative ‘realities’ and choose the desirable response - the best fit to the Torah truth.

Torah is the ultimate arbitrator of both truth and reality and not the our immediate feelings or limited understandings of peoples behavior.

I have put together a list of words that best represent how one should talk when judging favorably. The other list (therapy talk) is what usually goes as ‘therapeutic’ - even while being negative. Compare the two. Take your choice.

traditional therapy Act of kindness

anger .............................. hurt
causality ..........................effects
completion....................... becoming
control ............................ struggle/self control
declaration ..................... question
desires............................. doing what's right
discovery....................... . co-creation through speech
differe.................. similarities
expert ........................... act of kindness
failure ............................. aspiration
judge............................. . respect
knowing.......................... awe
lawfulness........................ choice
mine/yours....................... ours/community
missing........................... latent
neutral............................ moral
now................................. not yet
observation..................... participation
past ................................ future
perfection ....................... harmony
problem .......................... solution
resistance ...................... cooperation
rights ............................. obligations
standardization ............... uniqueness
symptom ......................... revolt
understand ..................... act
you ................................. I/we

One is a technical language, while the other is hopeful.

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