At Heschel, we teach our Judaics studies in Hebrew, not in English. We do this because the Hebrew language carries within it rich ethical concepts that are not translatable. Hebrew words such as רחמים (rachamim) , חסד (hesed), or חן (chen) lose depth of meaning when translated into English terms like “mercy,” “grace,” or “kind-deed.” This week’s parshah, Chayyei Sarah, focuses on “Chesed,” which is usually translated as kind-deed, or kindness. In the parshah, these deeds are exemplified by Avraham, who eulogized Sarah and purchased a burial place for her, and by Rivka, who offered water to Eliezer and his camels when they arrived in the evening at her well. But the word “kindness” does not fully describe the meaning of “Chesed.” Chesed is more specifically an act of kindness which does not anticipate any return or benefit. Avraham’s treatment of his deceased wife epitomizes Chesed, because a mitzvah on behalf of the deceased cannot be requited. Likewise, Rivka offered water to the parched camels and Avraham’s weary servant, without any consideration of benefit. For the most part, we live in a world of quid-pro-quo, where we expect returns – economic or emotional – for our actions towards others. Chesed describes those acts that are offerings with an open hand.
This Shabbat may we all open our hands with Chesed.