March 15, 2024 admin

‘The world is built on loving kindness:’ is it really so?

Since long before dawn, a verse has been going round and round in my mind like a tune which won’t let go: ‘Olam chesed yibaneh; the world is built on loving kindness.’ Those words are inscribed on the cornerstone of our synagogue. Maybe they’re pursuing me because tomorrow we read in the Torah about the completion of God’s sanctuary. Where chesed, kindness, is absent, God is half absent too. Places are only holy if God is welcome too.

But is the world really so? Is it anything more than a placatory wish, a delusive fiction, that, amidst war, destruction, cruelty, hatred, broken cities, broken trust and broken lives, ‘the world is built on loving kindness’?

Yet through these pre-dawn hours – hours when, the mystics tell us, the archangel Raphael traverses the heavens with healing on his wings – those words have accumulated details and restored memories which give them solid substance.

Last year in Kyiv, in a dim hall scarcely two miles from Babin Yar, I listen as Jewish women tell their stories. ‘I lost so many of my family in that place. Now I’m left here in this city. I used to care for children with disabilities, but they’ve all evacuated now. So I look after abandoned dogs and other animals. What’s life worth, if there’s no other life to care for?’

Last week, in the north of Israel, I hear how every morning at 6.00am volunteers prepare 500 breakfast rolls for displaced families and soldiers guarding against Hezbollah. ‘They come, day in, day out. All the ingredients are donated. They organise it all, shopping, preparing, distribution, everything.’

Last Shabbat I was at the table of my colleague Raba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum in Jerusalem. I asked her about inter-faith relations in the city. ‘They reach out to me, Christians, Muslims, fellow Jews, and I reach out to them. We need each other more than ever now.’

Yesterday, I was invited to offer a prayer in a multi-faith Iftar at Brent Mosque, commemorating five years since the massacre of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand. I learnt that the Mosque’s kitchen doesn’t close at lunchtime during Ramadan. They continue to offer free meals for local non-Muslim people, the cooks preparing foods they themselves can’t eat for many more slow hours.

Kindness is no bomb shelter. But it builds deep, deeper than the seductive reach of collective hate. Kindness has special chambers of its own, most importantly at this bleak time, the chamber of hope. I mean hope in human nature, hope in the hard-won ability to transform anger and transcend borders, hope in life itself.

Yet still the question returns: ‘Olam chesed yibanei’ – is it really so? Our world doesn’t look that way just now. Then I remember: the root of the word ‘olam’ means ‘hidden’. Underneath everything, half concealed, in ways we often cannot see because they look so small, so fragile, so feebly person-to-person in this age of the mass and crass, it will be kindness, if anything, which rebuilds our broken world.

To the kabbalists, kindness is a holy quality. The divine vitality pours forth from its deep, unknowable heights into binah, intuition and understanding, out of which is formed the awareness that all life is precious and holy. From there, this sacred energy flows into chesed, calling on each of us from within our heart to nurture and sustain the life around us with care and loving kindness.

The question isn’t ‘Is this true?’ but, in these bleak and aggressive times, ‘Can we make it so?’

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