Chesed (חסד, also Romanized khesed, ẖesed) is a Hebrew word commonly translated as "loving-kindness," "kindness" or "love." Chesed is central to Jewish ethics and Jewish theology. Many Jewish thinkers view chesed as the primary virtue.
Chesed is valued by religious Jews of all denominations. It is considered a virtue on its own, and also for its contribution to tikkun olam (repairing the world). It also the foundation of many religious commandments practiced by traditional Jews, especially interpersonal commandments. Chesed is the basis for a wide variety of Jewish communal institutions.
"Loving-kindness" is also often used as an English translation of chesed, originating with the Coverdale Bible of 1535. Although some consider it to be a somewhat archaic translation, it remains one of the most common translations. "Love" is often used as a shorter English translation. Daniel Elazar has suggested the translation of "covenant-love." "Grace" and "compassion" are also occasionally used as translations of chesed.
Greek and Latin
Eleos (often understood as mercy or pity) is the word used by the Septuagint to translate "chesed" into Greek. The Latin (Vulgate) translation of the Bible by Jerome used the Latin equivalent, misericordia. Chesed has also been understood as linked with the Greek word agape and its Latin equivalent, caritas (charity).
In traditional musar literature (ethical literature), chesed is one of the primary virtues. The tannaic rabbi Simon the Just taught: "The world rests upon three things: Torah, service to God, and bestowing kindness" (Pirkei Avot 1:2). Chesed is here the core ethical virtue.
A statement by Rabbi Simlai in the Talmud claims that "The Torah begins with chesed and ends with chesed." This may be understood to mean that "the entire Torah is characterized by chesed, i.e. it sets forth a vision of the ideal life whose goals are behavior characterized by mercy and compassion." Alternatively, it may allude to the idea that the giving of the Torah itself is the quintessential act of chesed.
- love God so completely that one will never forsake His service for any reason
- provide a child with all the necessities of his sustenance
- circumcise a child
- visiting and healing the sick
- giving charity to the poor
- offering hospitality to strangers
- attending to the dead
- bringing a bride to the chuppah marriage ceremony
- making peace between a man and his fellow
A person who embodies "chesed" (חסד) is known as a "chasid" (hasid, חסיד), one who is faithful to the covenant and who goes "above and beyond that which is normally required" and a number of groups throughout Jewish history which focus on going "above and beyond" have called themselves chasidim. These groups include the Hasideans of the Second Temple period, the Maimonidean Hasidim of medieval Egypt and Palestine, the Chasidei Ashkenaz in medieval Europe, and the Hasidic movement which emerged in eighteenth century Eastern Europe.
Across all streams of Judaism, many communal institutions dedicated to chesed are common. Sometimes these institutions are created by synagogues, local Jewish councils, or individual rabbinic or lay leaders. Often, an individual starts the initiative without prior community or leadership support. Many chesed organizations are very large, while many others may be a small as a one man shop. Common institutions include:
- Bikur cholim organizations – organizations dedicated to visiting and caring for the sick and their relatives
- Gemach – an institution dedicated to gemilut chasadim (providing kindness), often with free loan funds or by lending or giving away particular types of items (toys, clothes, medical equipment, etc.). Such organizations are often named with an acronym of Gemilas chasadim such as Gemach or GM"CH. A community may have dozens of unique (and sometimes overlapping) Gemach organizations
- Kiruv organizations – organizations designed to increase Jewish awareness among unaffiliated Jews, which is considered a form of kindness
- Hatzolah – organizations by this name typically provider free services for emergency medical dispatch and ambulance transport (EMTs and Paramedics)
- Chevra kadisha – organizations that perform religious care for the deceased, and often provide logistical help to their families relating to autopsies, transport of the body, emergency family travel, burial, running a Shiva home, and caring for mourners
- Chaverim (literally "friends") – organizations going by this name typically provide free roadside assistance and emergency help with mechanical or structural problems in private homes
- Shomrim (guardians) groups – community watch groups
Jewish political thought
The political theorist Daniel Elazar has suggested that "chesed" cannot easily be translated into English, but that it means something like "loving covenant obligation." Hesed "is the antidote to the narrow legalism that can be a problem for covenantal systems and would render them contractual rather than covenantal" and so forms the basis of Jewish political thought that goes beyond a concern with compliance with following laws.
|The Sephirot in Jewish Kabbalah|
The first three of the ten sephirot, are the attributes of the intellect, while Chesed is the first sephira of the attribute of action. In the kabbalistic Tree of life, its position is below Chokhmah, across from Gevurah and above Netzach. It is usually given four paths. To Chokhmah, Gevurah, Tiphereth, and Netzach (some Kabbalists place a path from Chesed to Binah as well.)
The Bahir states, "What is the fourth (utterance): The fourth is the righteousness of God, His mercies and kindness with the entire world. This is the right hand of God."  Chesed manifests God's absolute, unlimited benevolence and kindness.
Chesed is also known as Gedulah (גדולה).
- Jewish views on love
- Mettā Sanskrit word, given the association of "loving-kindness" and "friendliness"
- E.g. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 1, p. 307, s.v., “hesed,” pp. 305-07. "[Although] The word ‘lovingkindness’…is archaic, [it is] not far from the fullness of meaning of the word [chesed or hesed]."
- Yudit Kornberg Greenberg, Encyclopedia of love in world religions: Volume 1 – Page 268: The Hebrew hesed (plural hasadim) is usually translated as "grace" or "loving-kindness," but sometimes also as "mercy" or "love."
- Adin Steinsaltz, In the beginning: discourses on Chasidic thought – Page 140
- My People's Prayer Book: Welcoming the night: Minchah and Ma'ariv ed. Lawrence Hoffman – Page 169
- Miriyam Glazer, Dancing on the edge of the world: Jewish stories of faith, inspiration, and love, Page 80
- Sefer Yetzirah, trans. Aryeh Kaplan, p. 86
- "The Rabbinic Understanding of the Covenant," in Kinship & consent: the Jewish political tradition and its contemporary uses by Daniel Judah Elazar, p. 89
- Covenant and the Federal Constitution" by Neal Riemer in Publius vol. 10, No. 4 (Autumn, 1980), pp. 135–148
- A Rabbinic anthology, World Pub. Co., 1963
- Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World – Page 64
- http://www.bible-researcher.com/chesed.html. Accessed December 6, 2010.
- Eugene Korn, "Legal Floors and Moral Ceilings: A Jewish Understanding Of Law and Ethics," Edah Journal 2:2, page 10
- The Palm Tree of Devorah (Heb. Tomer Devorah). Cordovero, Rabbi Moshe.
- Daniel Elazar, Covenant as the Basis of the Jewish Political Tradition. Accessed December 6, 2010.
- Daniel Elazar, HaBrit V'HaHesed: Foundations of the Jewish System
- Bahir, translated by Aryeh Kaplan (1995). Aronson. (ISBN 1-56821-383-2)
- Arthur Green. A guide to the Zohar