Chayei Sara presents us with a wide variety of topics. The portion begins (Genesis 23) with Sarah’s death. Not unusual, you may say, coming immediately following the trauma of the “Akedah”. There is the long involved passage of Abraham sending his servant Eliezer to Haran to obtain a wife for Isaac (who by the way remains silent). There is this dramatic scene at the well when Eliezer’s test of who shall offer water sets the stage for the match between Rebecca and Isaac. In Genses 24: 12f, we see Rebecca passing this “test” and, as a result, she returns with Eliezer to Abraham and thus to Isaac as bride.
In describing the test at the well, Torah uses the word “hesed”, translated as kindness” in Eliezer’s prayer: “And he prayed, Eternal One, God of my master Abraham, please bring me luck today, and do a kindness for my master Abraham.” (24:12). Rabbi Jonathan Saks notes the use of this word as no accident, “for it is the very characteristic he is looking for in the future wife of the first Jewish child, Isaac, and he found it in Rebecca.” (“Essays in Ethics”. p. 29) Saks sees “hesed” as “love as deed” and a central aspect of Judaism. The value and ideal of hesed is so important that it is one of the daily requirements of our living as a Jew that we pray for every day in the morning prayer “Elu Devarim” (these are the things that are limitless”. One of the things we are called upon to practice every day are “deeds of loving-kindness” (“g’milut chasadim”)
I mention this because I have found in my work and in my life that as we get older, this concept of practicing “hesed” is powerful and very meaningful.It takes so little to be kind and to act this way to others. One of the reasons so many Boomers have turned to activities of giving back to their community is this desire, at this stage of life, to pay back. Kindness and acts of kindness cost nothing and benefit the receiver as well as the giver.
This aspect of the psychic-spiritual reward of “hesed” is slowly being realized not only on a practical level but on a therapeutic level as well. In a book called “The Hesed Boomerang”, author Jack Doueck recounts the fact that these deeds have a meritorious impact on our own self. He writes: “Modern research has shown that doing acts of hesed actually effects your brain (and body) chemistry. There are hormones called endorphins that are released, which improve your immune system. Hesed helps fight depression and anxiety. Heed is an antidote for sadness and stress. By putting your self out and focusing on other people, your own worries and fears are lessened.” (32)
Once again, a lesson from Torah on our own health and wellness. Deeds of love and kindness are a key way to renew a sense of meaning and purpose. Never more valuable than as we age.
Rabbi Richard F Address