Can an atheist be kind? Well, why not? As human beings we all have the capacity to help and give to others, regardless of our theological leanings.If kindness is a human capacity, then it seems to be outside the realm of religious belief.
However, a look at the life of our patriarch Avraham reveals a very different picture. Avraham was the archetypal man of chesed, kindness. His home was open to all, with doors on all four sides, welcoming people from every direction. After Avraham had fed his guest, he would invite them to thank Hashem – the true Source of the food they had just enjoyed. He was concerned with much more than his fellow man’s physical needs. Having discovered God through his own soul-searching, he wanted to ensure that all had access to the greatest gift of all – a relationship with their Creator.
When recovering from his circumcision, Hashem brought the sun out in all its strength to save Avraham the trouble of hosting guests. There were no travelers on this hot day. And yet, Avraham was distraught; he so wanted to give, it didn’t matter that there was no need. What would move Avraham to fill a need that didn’t exist?!
One way to properly define something is to analyze its opposite. Who was Avraham’s nemesis? We would imagine it to be a murderer, or a thief, one who embodied cruelty just like Avraham embodied kindness. But no, his nemesis was Nimrod, the man who united his generation to rebel against Hashem. He was able to bring together an entire generation in (almost) perfect unity. That doesn’t seem like the antithesis of kindness.
Nimrod led his generation in the building of the Tower of Babel. What exactly was his plan? How would the tower enable them to rebel against Hashem? In order to understand this subject, we need to briefly review one fundamental concept.
Hashem created the world as an act of chesed, and love. He withheld of Himself, so to speak, in order to give man an independent free-willed existence.
Nimrod and his cronies planned to take full advantage of their independence. God granted man free-will to rebel against Him, and rebel they did.
Avraham on the other hand, was in awe of God’s kindness in allowing man the space to choose. He therefore sought to emulate this form of kindness whenever he could.
Here lies a powerful concept. Chesed is not about empathizing with others. It certainly includes that, but it is much deeper. Empathy is born of similarity, the more we relate to the pain the other person is experiencing, the more we empathize. True Chesed however, is about creating the space to give to an entity other than yourself. Charity begins at home, because it’s there that the lines between me and other begin to blur, and we need to create space for the other.
One who experiences existence as a joyous space created by God, can make space for the other. Every person is a whole world onto themselves, and has their own language of perception. We can only begin to build the world when we hold back the ‘me’, and truly allow others to thrive. This is true chesed as God Himself showed us. While society – sans religion – believes in kindness, that form is the human-nature version. Chesed however, is Godly!