Friday, May 25, 2007

Limits on Lovingkindness

חֶסֶד is usually translated by the awkwardly-long English word 'lovingkindness'.

What is חסד?

According to the משנה, in מסכת פאה, the performance of acts of חסד has no legal lower or upper limit. And in פרקי אבות, we are told by שמעון הצדיק that the performance of acts of חסד is one of the three pillars of the universe, along with תורה and worship.

חסד is one of the dominant paradigms of how we see God acting towards us, and about which we are told in מסכת סוטה in the תלמוד בבלי that we are obligated to imitate God by doing similar acts of חסד — specifically listed are clothing the naked, visiting the sick, comforting mourners and burying the dead.

חסד is meant to be shared among all of God's creations. It can't be kept cooped up among your family, tribe, or nation; of course, as human beings we feel a greater responsibility and affinity for those who we are more closely related to, and those who more closely resemble us, but we can't ignore our obligation to practice acts of caring on behalf of those who are different from us as well.

Because when you restrict חסד to just your brothers and your sisters, leaving the rest of the human family out in the cold, what you've got isn't חסד — it's חסד.


Blogger The back of the hill said...

I've always been averse to translating Hhesed as lovingkindness. The word seems so made-up.

I've always understood the terms brother and fellow, as they are translated, to be meant in the broader sense when it comes to ideals and ethics, and only if it is specifically limited by ritual applicability or legal distinctions to mean within the tribe rather than within the brotherhood of man.

5/25/2007 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting, I view hesed the same way you posted in your post, that hesed is meant to be shared among all of God's creations.

Nice post, hazak.

5/26/2007 6:37 PM  
Blogger The Anti-Semite said...


Agreed with whole article until the last word. (Ad Velo Ad Biqhlal).

Although the premise of priciples like "Hayyeqha Qodmim" & "Aniyyei Ircho Kodmim" do not imply to ignore problems far away, I still can't compare ignoring the pain of someone on the other side of the globe with incest.

Also, I seen somwhere (can't remember off hand) that when you know someone is in distress but you can't do anything (i.e. physical, fiscal or verbal) comforting, you should at least participate in his sorrow in your heart. So maybe that's what you meant.

[Rime Of The Ancient Mariner - Coleridge.]

5/27/2007 7:48 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


according to the OED it was made up by Miles Coverdale in 1535!




the point of the pun was to express an intense dislike towards those who see willfull ignorance of and lack of caring towards people on the other side of the world's problems as a virtue. for some strange reason, some people think that not caring about their fellow human beings is a good thing.

5/27/2007 9:27 PM  
Blogger The Anti-Semite said...

"some people think that not caring about their fellow human beings is a good thing." In that case you're right.

I never heard it as an outright philosophy, though. Unless you refer to cases like the Tsunmai vicitims, in which events the foreign relief recipients not only were ungrateful but outright usurped those funds, many were channeled to terrorganizations and many of the recipients wore Osama T shirts and scorned the rescue teams. In that case my reaction too is "screw you and drop dead". Of course, this damns the poor innocent ones too, so there is effectively a dilemma as to whether give to all despite the bad or abandon all despite the good ones. Worth noting that AFAIK there were no protests against the Osama fans.

I also don't like Uncle Sam sticking his greasy hands in my pockets and decide for me to give foreign aid, foreign relief etc., while I pay $3 a gallon. Might as well fill up with scotch!

As a side note, it's interesting to note that when Sandy Berger and Madeleine Albright were exterminating the Serbs there was no surge of compassion in the media, nor foreign relief of any kind (except for the Croatians).

5/28/2007 8:15 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

not being so up on the news, i hadn't heard about any problems with the post-Tsunami relief efforts. but assuming your info is accurate, it would make sense for people to be more wary about where they send their help in the future — but it doesn't justify some people's reactions in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, or hurricane katrina, or over the last few years in Darfur, when they say things like "oh those people don't matter, we don't have to care about them"

5/28/2007 12:38 PM  
Blogger The Anti-Semite said...


5/28/2007 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Jacob Farkas said...

I don't see a dilemma in helping Tsunami victims. The victims are not all your enemies, and even if they were, see Mishlei 25:21 (suggests feeding a hungry enemy)

Where do you get scotch for $3 a gallon?

The reason why the media supported the NATO intervention in Kosovo was because of the perception that the Serbs were seeking to exterminate the Kosovar Albanians. Considering that Milosevic was a hard-line Right-wing nationalist most certainly helped fuel that perception. [It is irrelevant and off-topic to discuss whether the Serbs were actually involved in genocide].

Loved the pun at the end of your post, on two levels; incestuous nature of those who shun caring for outsiders, and the literal translation of hesed as used in that verse, according to Targum and Rashi, stemming from the aramaic word that means Herpah, whose Yiddish equivalent is Shanda.

5/30/2007 12:27 AM  

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