Receiving and Giving Chessed

It’s a love that accepts and treasures life as it is, even as it sees and embraces its potential for perfection.

מַה־טּ֑וֹב וּמָֽה־יְהוָ֞ה דּוֹרֵ֣שׁ מִמְּךָ֗ כִּ֣י אִם־עֲשׂ֤וֹת מִשְׁפָּט֙ וְאַ֣הֲבַת חֶ֔סֶד
What is good, and what does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love chessed and walk modestly with your God.Micah 6:8

Chessed is one of the most beautiful words in Hebrew. It doesn’t translate directly into English. You’ll often see it translated as “lovingkindness” – but what does that mean?

In The Jewish Way, Irving Greenberg explains that chessed is a special kind of love, a love that accepts and treasures life as it is, even as it sees and embraces its potential for perfection (p. 114). In describing this type of love, Greenberg writes that,

…a person blessed with the wisdom of chessed knows that life is rooted in the infinite. Therefore, life can grow out of its fetters and flaws. Life can outgrow death by creating more life before death comes.

Chessed lives through deeds. Our sages taught that God is the exemplar of chessed – clothing Adam and Eve when they needed clothes, visiting Abraham as he recovered from illness, burying Moses when he died. We live chessed as we emulate these acts. Chessed animates many of the events that will take place at CBJ in the upcoming months.

Ruth Shapiro as a Reflection of Chessed

We lost a beloved friend and teacher when Ruth Shapiro died last year. After saying kaddish for Ruth Shapiro for the past 11 months, we will gather at her grave on Sunday, January 11 at 10:30 a.m. at the Hills of Eternity cemetery for the unveiling of her gravestone. Following the unveiling, we will return to CBJ for lunch and share our stories and memories of Ruth.

I find myself thinking about and missing Ruth all of the time. At the recent Adult B’nai Mitzvah I saw so many people who were touched by Ruth’s teaching and kindness. She taught with chessed – seeing the potential in each of her students. I gave the students books from Ruth’s library as gifts – knowing that her chessed would emanate through the Jewish books that taught how to live with chessed. Ruth’s faith and deeds live in our hearts and inspire us. It has been especially meaningful that members of the community are saying kaddish for Ruth along with her children. Please come on January 11 and share your stories of Ruth as we let her spirit continue to give light to our community.

Responding to Martin Luther King’s Memory through Chessed

The best way to honor the memory of Dr. King is to continue to fight for racial equality and human rights in a society that still needs to build on the advances he initiated. On MLK Day, we participate in a book drive at CBJ through the Jewish Coalition of Literacy. Join us as we donate, sort and deliver books as an act of chessed honoring Dr. King’s memory.

Sending Gifts on Purim as an Act of Chessed

Believe it or not, Purim is coming soon. At CBJ, we have begun a beautiful custom of mishloach manot – sending gift baskets – as a traditional way to celebrate the holiday. Sharing with friends on this holiday of heroism and survival is a beautiful way to reflect the solidarity that Purim celebrates. The Megillah depicts Esther’s fear as she thought of approaching the king without having been summoned – an act that could have resulted in dire consequences. Before she did so, she asked the community to fast with her. This symbol of solidarity continues to define our people.

Chessed involves thinking about others and how you can care for them. Sending mishloach manot is a beautiful way to let someone know you are thinking about them. Purim is a holiday of joy and celebration, and receiving this package brings joy – I have a stack of thank you notes that attests to this! Take a few minutes when the mishloach manot information comes out to send packages to people you know, and people you would like to know better.

May the power of chessed be something you feel, experience, and live in the coming days.