And the child (Yitzchok) grew and was (vayigmal) weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Yizchok was (higamel) weaned. (Breishis 21:8)
Why did Avraham make such a great celebration to honor the day that Yitzchok did not need to nurse from his mother Sara? Why does the Holy Torah bother to record it? Why did Avraham not make a party or a feast upon any other occasion, like winning the war of the four and five kings? That was certainly a great accomplishment! What was insufficient about that? What’s so great about this?
The key may be found in the second Mishne in Pirke Avos. There it is recorded there that Shimon HaTzadik was from the remnant of the Men of the Great Assembly and he used to say: “On three things the world stands on Torah, Service (Avodah), and Acts of Kindliness (Gemilas Chassadim).” What is “Gemilas Chassadim”? How is it different from just plain “Chessed”? Why not one word like the other pillars?
To understand “Gemilas Chassadim” we need to know what the word “gemilas” adds to the equation. The root word is “Gimel”, “Mem” and “Lamed”. A clue to a letters value and meaning is to be found in the first time a word in Torah begins with that letter (discounting of course the prefix). “Gimel” is found in reference to the “meoros hagedolim the great lights” and then the taninim hagedolim- the great sea monsters. Gimel implies growth, expansion- GADOL! Therefore words beginning with “Gimel” will likely have to do with growing great in size or number, quantity or quality.
The word “Gimel” – the name of the letter is another hint. The second part of the word “Mal” (after gimel) means to cut, as we use in reference to the procedure of the circumcision. How do the concepts of growing and cutting teach us about the word GIMEL?
GIMEL is also made of the same consonants that spell “Gamal”- a camel. What is the specialty of a camel? We all know that a camel is best suited to travel across arid lands because he can drink and store large amounts of water and remain for long periods of time removed from his source. He fuels up and is then able to be cut or dislocated from his source.
A tree holds its fruit no longer than is necessary. When it is ripe and ready to reproduce it is released. This perhaps is the model of “Gemilas Chassadim” Similarly a parent and a teacher hope that the child will one day walk on their own passing on what they have received. It is neither a business deal with a quid pro quo nor a power play to hold others in a position of permanent dependency. That’s not the ideal!
Gemilas Chassadim is a complete program to bring another to maturity, with the ability to give in kind. We take with the hope to give and give in order to create a generation of givers. It’s no mistake that the first time that the word with the root GIMAL-MEM-LAMED is found is: “And the child (Yitzchok) grew and was (vayigmal) weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Yizchok was (higamel) weaned.” What’s the big deal?
This is a primary example of Gemilas Chassadim! Like the Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and he has fish for a day! Teach him to fish and he has fish for a lifetime!” Avraham was portrayed earlier as the pillar of Chessed- kindliness reaching out to the world, but this was not good enough.
Feeding people is not the ultimate good. To raise a child, a student, or a nation to become independent- capable givers themselves is Gemilas Chassadim. That’s the stuff on which the world stands and it’s worth celebrating.