Then there’s the other aspect of chesed (lovingkindness), the little meaning, addressing the relationship between man and man. This is the popular usage of chesed within the Jewish community, fuelled by the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation of the word as mercy.
This manifests as acts of kindness and charity, something that is very much a feature of Jewish society. These are not the acts of charity, such as giving to the poor, that are considered a duty. These are known as tzedakah, a religious obligation. Rather, chesed represents acts of kindness and charity that go above and beyond the expected and can be directed to anyone, even the rich and the undeserving. Subsequently many Jewish charitable initiatives make use of the word ‘chesed’ in their titles. How about Biblical examples? A good place to start is the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)
This is chesed galore. This is also a picture of God’s chesed, by demonstrating to us how difficult is is to go beyond. Turning the other cheek, handing over your coat, going the extra mile, giving freely, loving your enemy, praying for your persecutor! This is a glimpse into God’s world, being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do wonderful things, as a demonstration of the new life we have in Christ. And it’s chesed that drives it all!
For Old Testament examples we just need to look at two short books, Ruth and Hosea. In Ruth we have this Moabitess showing extraordinary love and favour towards her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi.
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
This is certainly going above and beyond. Ruth is showing chesed towards Naomi, a selfless and altruistic act.
Hosea was asked by God to show extraordinary chesed towards his wife, despite her persistent unfaithfulness.
The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.” (Hosea 3:1-3)
Of course, this is a picture of God’s greater chesed towards His unfaithful people, but Hosea still had to go through it!
This is an extract from the book, Shalom, available for £10 at https://www.sppublishing.com/shalom-239-p.asp
How should we treat each other?