P'shat From Making Menches: A Periodic Table
Chesed - the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.
Both texts declare that Chesed is foundational to the world, what is the implication? If Chesed is embedded in the world what is the opportunity for us? what is the challenge?
Chesed involves acts that sustain the other. This is a dimension of the notion that doesn't come through so clearly when we think of is loving-kindness. In the Jewish view, it isn't enough to hold warm thoughts in our heart or to wish each other well We are meant to offer real sustenance to one another... Musar tells us that action is the key to opening the heart...
to qualify as chesed these actions need to come out of kindness and no other motive. True chesed invovles offering without any expectation of return, even gratitude.
- Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness, p 186-7
What does acting on chesed look like? How does Morinis's definition of chesed resonate with you?
Why might we say this blessing in the morning upon washing our face? What is the interplay between God giving kindness to us and us giving kindness to others? Between asking and receiving and giving?
Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.
What is your reaction to Naomi Shihab Nye's assertions around kindness? How does this fit with your own experiences? What do you take from her messages?
Do you agree with these assertions? How might they play out in examples in your life? Is the difference for the giver, receiver or both?
Dr. Leila L. Bronner
Hesed is indeed one of the key words controlling the text....[ The Book of Ruth]
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.
In your cultivation of this middah how much is this practice of chesed towards those that have no claim part of your work? How does this affect your ability to nurture the practice?