Fundamentally, the provision of welfare is seen in Judaism as an act of Imitatio Dei -- the imitation of G-d's ways-- and as such is the mark of the Jew, who is obligated to walk in G-d's paths. In a Talmudic discussion, a rabbi asked how one can compare oneself to G-d and be so presumptuous as to assume that one can walk in His footsteps. After all, He is eternal, He is all-consuming fire, He has neither shape nor form, etc. To this, the rejoinder was that just as G-d is all-merciful, so man should be merciful; just as G-d is kind and righteous, so man should be kind and righteous; just as G-d is careful to look after all the creatures in His world, so should man be. Rabbi Simlai taught, the Torah begins with an act of chesed (loving-kindness) and ends with an act of chesed. As it is written at the beginning of the Torah, “and the Lord G-d made garments of skin for Adam and Eve and clothed them” [Genesis 3:21]; And at the conclusion of the Torah, “he [G-d] buried him [Moses] in the valley in the land of Moab” [Deuteronomy 34:6]. Talmud Bavli, Sotah 14a This view of acts of welfare as an imitation of G-d's greatness was extended to every aspect of the welfare spectrum, not just the giving of gifts to the poor. So we find Shimon Hatsadik writing in the 4th century B.C.E.: “There are three things on which the world stands: on the Torah, on Divine service, and on acts of lovingkindness [chesed].” Mishnah, Avot, chapter 1, mishnah 2. The three are equally important in Judaism and equally essential for the construction of a religious and G-dly nation. Acts of chesed were, therefore, considered to be characteristic of the Jewish people, both as individuals and as a nation.
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