Gemilut Hasadim 101
Lovingkindness--the act of caring for others--is a fundamental of Judaism.
Jewish communities often pride themselves on tending to the temporary and chronic needs of their weaker (or temporarily weakened) members. Larger communities throughout history have often created voluntary organizations that undertook to fulfill one or another of these mitzvot, which fall into the category of gemilut hasadim, doing acts of lovingkindness. In the welcoming "host societies" of modernity, many Jews have turned the tradition of Jewish self-help outward as well, transforming it into a concern for social welfare and social justice for Jews and non-Jews alike.
Fulfilling this mitzvah involves tending to the spiritual needs of those who are ill as well as assuaging their physical ailments. Visits, prayers for healing, and other expressions of concern can help relieve the anguish and isolation felt by those who are ill. Traditional texts offer guidance on how to perform--but not overdo--this task.
It is a major mitzvah to see to the burial of someone who dies, and communally healing the psychic wounds of death inflicted upon the mourners is the purpose of a highly elaborated set of rules and rituals. Jewish tradition mandates that one should provide mourners with their immediate needs (such as meals) and with unobtrusive companionship, interacting with them in a way that enables them to express their grief, whether in words or in silence.
In the pre-modern world, without ubiquitous hotels and rapid transportation, wayfarers were often dependent on those whom they encountered en route. Jewish communities traditionally provided for Jews passing through their locales, whether they were indigent or simply in transit. These traditions of hospitality persist. Some rabbinic writings on law and ethics offer practical advice on how to be a low-impact, appreciative guest as well as how to be a gracious and generous host or hostess.
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