September 25, 2017 admin

Key Words for Yom Kippur Part 1: Chesed

Leshanah Tovah and Gmar Chatimah Tovah; I wish everyone a good year and a worthwhile Yom Kippur. This week I again plan to focus on one word each day.

The period from Rosh Hashanah up to and including Yom Kippur is known as asseret yemei teshuvah, the ten days of penitence or return, when we try to rediscover and re-inhabit the best portion of our inner selves. This is a time of healing, when we seek to make whole again our relationship with our own self, with those closest to us and with those, near or far, for whom we carry responsibility as fellow beings on this earth. In so doing, we hope to open our hearts to the presence of God which flows through us all and thus to make atonement, to be less at odds and more at one with life. This is a both a demanding challenge and a privileged opportunity.

Perhaps the key quality we need is chesed. Usually translated as loving kindness, chesed comprises love, mercy, loyalty and faithfulness. It expresses the best part of the human heart. Its oppositeis anger, cruelty, callousness, rejection.

The Talmud teaches that God ‘inclines towards chesed’, especially at this season. Over and again on Yom Kippur, we repeat the chorus verse of the day: ‘God, God, merciful and gracious’. The meaning is surely that we, too, should try to deepen the kindness, love and generosity in our hearts and view the world from there.

It isn’t hard to find reasons for being irritated with people. The mind all too readily hovers over its vexations and grudges: ‘He did this to me’; ‘She did that’ – few of us would have difficulty completing the sentence. We could no doubt provide ample justification for our hostile feelings. We might well be perfectly right; we might be entitled to feel angry and hurt. But will this bring healing, to us or anybody else? It probably leads only to more entrenched resentments and more alienated relationships.

Matters can look different if we view them with generous eyes. We can step back from judgment and approach life in the spirit of understanding. ‘Perhaps they too felt unheard…’; ‘Maybe I contributed…maybe I’m also at fault’; ‘I get where she’s coming from; she’s been through so much…’ To respond in this manner takes chesed, mercy and forbearance. It makes the situation look different; it doesn’t mean that we forgive or forget everything, but it may take us to a place from where healing is possible.

Therefore, we should try to fill the internal pool of our heart with chesed. We can do so by thinking of blessings we’ve received, altruism we have witnessed, pity we’ve felt, ways in which the world is beautiful, people for whom we love and care.

The world is too full of anger and recrimination. With chesed in our hearts, we may be able to counter at least some of the hatred, bringing healing to others and ourselves.


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