Parashat VaYehi- True Kindness
In the beginning of Parashat Vayehi, Yaakob summons Yosef shortly before his death and has him make an oath promising to bring his remains back to Eretz Yisrael for burial. Yaakob here asks his son to perform “Hesed Ve’emet” – “kindness and truth” (47:29). Rashi famously explains that the kindness performed with the deceased is “true” kindness because there is no expectation of reciprocity. Generally, even when we perform favors out of a sincere desire to help somebody, we also think in our minds that “what goes around comes around,” and that by doing favors for others we put ourselves in a position where we can expect favors from them. Such thoughts are perfectly legitimate, and it is indeed a sign of a healthy society or community if people do favors and feel comfortable asking for favors. Nevertheless, the kindness performed for a deceased person is special, in that it is done out of complete, pure sincerity, as one does not expect anything return. And for this reason, Yaakob refers to the favor he requests from Yosef as “Hesed Ve’emet.”
There is also an additional reason why Yaakob used this term specifically in this context. In the next section, we read that Yaakob tells Yosef about the circumstances surrounding the death and burial of his mother, Rahel. He explains that Rahel had died on the road, as Yaakob was journeying, and he felt compelled to bury her along the roadside, rather than give her a proper burial in the family plot in Hebron. Rashi explains that Yaakob conveyed this information to Yosef because he suspected that Yosef may have harbored hard feelings toward him on account of this perceived slight to his mother’s honor. Yaakob explained to Yosef that the roadside burial was necessitated by circumstances, and, moreover, in the future, when the Jewish people would be driven into exile, they would pass by Rahel’s grave along the road and pray. Her soul would then petition G-d on their behalf, and it will be in Rahel’s merit that the Jews will ultimately return. Yosef therefore had no reason to feel slighted over Rahel’s roadside burial, as it was specifically arranged by G-d for the sake of her descendants.
With this in mind, we can return to the phrase “Hesed Ve’emet.” Yaakob anticipated some uneasiness on Yosef’s part with regard to this request he is now making. Yosef might think to himself, “Why is my father asking me to do for him what he did not do for my mother? Why should I go through the trouble of bringing his remains from Egypt to Canaan if he did not bring my mother’s remains to Hebron?” Yaakob therefore emphasized that he was requested “Hesed Ve’emet” – true kindness. When one performs true kindness, he does not try to rationalize whether the favor is “deserved.” He does it solely out of a desire to fulfill the wishes of another person, without making calculations. This is the kind of “true kindness” that Yaakob was asking Yosef to perform, and this is the type of “true kindness” that we should aspire to perform for other people.