Chayai Sarah presnts is with a wealth of interesting issues. From the death of Sara to the death of Abraham, we see aspects of the life of this family. Most notable is the lengthy chapter 24 in which we read of Abraham’s instructions to his servant, Eliezer, on obtaining a wife for his son Isaac. What is also fascinating this week is the commentaries that have been based on one word within this portion. In 24:12-14, we read of the “test” that was to be given to determine the propoer wife for Isaac. When a young woman, at a well, says “drink and I will water your camels too”, that will be the young woman for Isaac. (see 24:12-14). The text explains that once a person does this, Eliezer will know that: “By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master”. We meet the word chesed in this passage. In his book on Torah essays, Rabbi Jonathan Saks notes this passage and this word as symbolic of the real essence of being Jewish, more so than the concept of tzedakah, this idea of chesed speaks to an entire approach to life and living.
Saks quotes Heschel: “When I was young I admired cleverness. Now that I am old I find I admire kindness more”. (Saks: Essays on Ethics. p. 31). Think about this for us as we get older. Of course we can admire cleverness, but we also have experienced (and continue to experience) cleverness as not only a positive, but a tool for disruption and chaos. But kindness, that overcomes all. How much the more have we come to appreciate the ability to treat each other with respect. Again, we reference back to Genesis as the idea (and ideal) that, created in God’s image, we are mandated to be kind. The concept of chesed, is often translated as “lovingkindness”. But again, this is a Hebrew word, the translation of which is hampered by English language, This word is really a way of living, an approach to life. Watch what happens in tChehe next few weeks when the Tom Hanks movie on Mr. Rodgers comes out. Like the documentary, we will witness an explosion of conversation about how we need to be kind to each other. Chesed is that Jewish approach. As we get older, and come to realize what really is important in life, think about how we have come to honor and appreciate and value this idea of living a life that is defined by chesed.
In a world that seems to devalue this ideal, again our tradition reminds us what is true and provides for us a moral, ethical and behavioral foundation for life. In modeling and living chesed we bring honor to the concept of being in God’s image and we project, to others, our own view of how we see, in our heart of hearts, our own self.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.