By Rabbi Lilly Kaufman
Torah Fund Director
Chesed is our Women’s League and Torah Fund theme this year. How would you describe chesed to someone unfamiliar with the concept? Is it a feeling? An attitude of niceness? Of kindness? It is more than all of these. It is action: proactive, generous acts of kindness. And it is love. It is commanded and it is improvised.
An especially loving use of the word ‘chesed’ in our prayer book is in the recurring phrase, ‘chen vachesed v’rachamim,’ which means, ‘grace and kindness and mercy.’ We find this trio of loving words strung together in the morning prayer service. They appear in the concluding blessing of the Amidah, ‘Sim Shalom’. We ask God for shalom ba’olam, tovah uv’rachah, chen vachesed v’rachamim…peace in the world, goodness and blessing, grace and kindness and mercy.
These intangible and irreplaceable values, representing the deepest wishes of humanity, are bestowed by God, and so we ask God for them. Yet perhaps this prayer ends the Amidah daily so that we will be inspired go out into the world and work to achieve peace, goodness, kindness and mercy by our own efforts as well.
The phrase ‘chen vachesed v’rachamim’ is quite old. We find it in Kaddish D’Rabbanan, dating from the Talmudic period, which expresses the phrase in Aramaic as ‘china v’chisda v’rachamin.’ In this rabbis’ kaddish, God’s kindness is sought on behalf of teachers of Torah, in this petitionary prayer for:
china v’chisda v’rachamin, v’chayin arichin, um’zonei r’vichei, ufurkana, min kodam avuhon di vishmaya
grace and kindness and compassion, long lives and plentiful food, and salvation through our
Father in heaven
The author imagined God’s immense reach, gracing and fortifying the lives of teachers of Torah, who are dispersed all over the world, doing sacred work. This poignantly acknowledges the daily struggles for two important kinds of sustenance: physical and spiritual nourishment.
May our chesed, the acts of kindness that we perform in our lifetimes, be so bountiful, creative, and focused on the real needs of others, as to become our children’s calling cards to God.
If you wish to support the spiritual and physical needs of the students of Torah at the five seminaries of the Conservative/Masorti movement, please consider a donation to Torah Fund. Go to www.jtsa.edu/torahfund or call (212) 678-8977, ext. 8876.