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Try a Little Tenderness:

Chesed and the Book of Ruth

 

Source Sheet by Rabbi Sari Laufer

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  1. (ח) וַתֹּ֤אמֶר נָעֳמִי֙ לִשְׁתֵּ֣י כַלֹּתֶ֔יהָ לֵ֣כְנָה שֹּׁ֔בְנָה אִשָּׁ֖ה לְבֵ֣ית אִמָּ֑הּ יעשה [יַ֣עַשׂ] יְהוָ֤ה עִמָּכֶם֙ חֶ֔סֶד כַּאֲשֶׁ֧ר עֲשִׂיתֶ֛ם עִם־הַמֵּתִ֖ים וְעִמָּדִֽי׃

    (8) And Naomi said unto her two daughters-in-law: ‘Go, return each of you to her mother’s house; the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead, and with me.

  2. (כ) וַתֹּ֨אמֶר נָעֳמִ֜י לְכַלָּתָ֗הּ בָּר֥וּךְ הוּא֙ לַיהוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹא־עָזַ֣ב חַסְדּ֔וֹ אֶת־הַחַיִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַמֵּתִ֑ים וַתֹּ֧אמֶר לָ֣הּ נָעֳמִ֗י קָר֥וֹב לָ֙נוּ֙ הָאִ֔ישׁ מִֽגֹּאֲלֵ֖נוּ הֽוּא׃

    (20) And Naomi said unto her daughter-in-law: ‘Blessed be he of Adonai, who has not left off God's kindness to the living and to the dead.’ And Naomi said unto her: ‘The man is nigh of kin unto us, one of our near kinsmen.’

  3. (י) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר בְּרוּכָ֨ה אַ֤תְּ לַֽיהוָה֙ בִּתִּ֔י הֵיטַ֛בְתְּ חַסְדֵּ֥ךְ הָאַחֲר֖וֹן מִן־הָרִאשׁ֑וֹן לְבִלְתִּי־לֶ֗כֶת אַחֲרֵי֙ הַבַּ֣חוּרִ֔ים אִם־דַּ֖ל וְאִם־עָשִֽׁיר׃

    (10) And he said: ‘Blessed be you of Adonai, my daughter; you have shown more kindness in the end than at the beginning, inasmuch as you did not follow the young men, whether poor or rich.

  4. (יד) יעשה ה' עמכם חסד ר' חנינא בר אדא אמר: יעשה כתיב. כאשר עשיתם עם המתים שנטפלתם בתכריכיהון. ועמדי שויתרו לה כתובותיהן. אמר רבי זעירא מגילה זו אין בה לא טומאה ולא טהרה, ולא איסור ולא היתר. ולמה נכתבה? ללמדך כמה שכר טוב לגומלי חסדים.

    (14) "God will deal kindly with you(Ruth 1:8)" . Rabbi Chanina bar Ada says, "Will show (ya'aseh)" is what is written (k'tiv), "as you showed with the dead (ibid)" when you were occupied with their shrouds, "and with me (ibid)" when they renounced their ketubot. Rabbi Zeira says, "This scroll does not have anything in it concerned with impurity or purity nor what is forbidden and what is permitted. So why is it written? To teach us the greatness of the reward for acts of lovingkindness."

  5. (ו) כִּ֛י חֶ֥סֶד חָפַ֖צְתִּי וְלֹא־זָ֑בַח וְדַ֥עַת אֱלֹהִ֖ים מֵעֹלֽוֹת׃

    (6) For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.

  6. (ג) כִּֽי־אָמַ֗רְתִּי ע֭וֹלָם חֶ֣סֶד יִבָּנֶ֑ה שָׁמַ֓יִם ׀ תָּכִ֖ן אֱמוּנָתְךָ֣ בָהֶֽם׃

    (3) For I have said: All existence is built upon hesed; loving commitment is found even in the heavens.

  7. על גמ"ח כיצד הרי הוא אומר (הושע ו) כי חסד חפצתי ולא זבח. העולם מתחלה לא נברא אלא בחסד שנאמר (תהלים פט) כי אמרתי עולם חסד יבנה שמים תכין אמונתך בהם. פעם אחת היה רבן יוחנן בן זכאי יוצא מירושלים והיה רבי יהושע הולך אחריו וראה בית המקדש חרב [אר"י אוי לנו על זה שהוא חרב] מקום שמכפרים בו עונותיהם של ישראל. א"ל בני אל ירע לך יש לנו כפרה אחת שהיא כמותה ואיזה זה גמ"ח שנאמר כי חסד חפצתי ולא זבח.

    Avot D'Rabbi Natan 4:7

    How do we know the significance of acts of hesed? As the Prophet Hosea said: "For I desire hesed, and not sacrifice."

    The world began only with hesed, as it says in Psalms: "All existence is built upon hesed; loving commitment is found even in the heavens."

     

    One time it happened that Rabban Yohannan ben Zakkai was leaving Jeruslaem, and Rabbi Joshua was walking after him. He saw the ruins of Solomon's Temple.

    Rabbi Joshua said: "Oy! What a devastation for us that the place where Israel atoned for our sins has been destroyed."

    Rabbi Yohannan replied: "My son, do not fear. We have another form of atonement that is just as effective."

     

    What is it? Acts of hesed.

    This is what the verse from Hosea means when it says:

    "For I desire hesed, and not sacrifice."

  8. אמר ר' יהודה ללמדך שכל הכופר בגמילות חסד כאילו כופר בעיקר​

    Kohelet Rabba 7:4

    Rabbi Yehuda said: anyone who denies the primacy of hesed, it is as if they deny the Holy One and all that is good.

  9. Dr. Leila L. Bronner

     

    Hesed is indeed one of the key words controlling the text....

     

    Every character acting in this brief story–from Naomi to Ruth to Boaz to the minor characters–behaves in a manner that demonstrates this heroic concept of some form of hesed.The main actors of the story all act in the spirit of hesed; some perform ordinary hesed, and some–especially Ruth–extraordinary hesed.Their exemplary behavior is somewhat reminiscent of that of the patriarchs and matriarchs.

     

    The Ruth narrative resembles the older narratives in language, content, and style (Ruth 3.3-9; cf. Genesis 24.12-14). Ruth, like Abraham–the founder of the nation, the first of the proselytes–leaves the house of her father and mother and goes to join a people who, as far as she knows, will not accept her because of her foreign origins (Midrash GenesisRabbah 59.9; Talmud, Sukkah 49b). Yet she will not be dissuaded and joins the Israelite nation, with no thought of reward for this act of affiliation, and in this lies her great hesed.

     

    The rabbinic sources emphasize the superabundancy of hesed,its "more- than-enoughness." As Maimonides puts it, the concept of hesed:

     

    "Includes two notions, one of them consisting in the exercise of beneficence toward one who deserves it, but in a greater measure than he deserves it. In most cases, the prophetic books use the word hesed in the sense of practicing beneficence toward one who has no right at all to claim this from you" [Guide for the Perplexed].

     

    Ruth’s mode is the second, to practice benevolence toward people who have no claim on her for it.

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