The Essence of Torah: Chesed

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

The Medrash Rus, רות רבה ב:טו, says, “אמר רב זעירא, (this מגילה scroll has no mention of what is prohibited, what is permitted…) it is written to teach us the ‘great reward for those who are involved in kindness.’”

Another Medrash, ילקוט רות תקצ”ד, teaches: we read מגילת רות on Shavuos, the time of the giving of the Torah to teach that one can only acquire Torah though pain, poverty… and adversity.”

“The beginning of the Torah is chesed, the middle and the end”; the foundation and essence of all of Torah is chesed. The רמב”ם, Maimonides, explains that there are three distinct ideas: צדקה ,צדק, and חסד.b צדק (Tzedek) is repaying another according to the accepted norm; צדקה is not what is demanded from one, but rather what a person views as obligatory (ex: when seing a person suffering, one’s emotions evoke one to help, placating one’s “pain”). חסד, Chesed, transcends one’s emotions and intellect of obligation; but rather is the essence of an exemplary person… “I am here to constantly altruistically benefit others.”

True spirituality, true human greatness is attained only when one transcends all of one’s personal interest; this being the true definition of חסד, chesed.

When we read the story of Rus, we are struck by the initial hardships of hunger, the death of Naomi’s husband and two sons; the poverty that Naomi and her former daughter-in-law Rus suffered and the startling sequence of events of how בועז, Boaz, a revered, respected leader of Klal Yisroel marries Rus, a convert. From this union came the Davidic dynasty and eventually Moshiach, who will possess superior qualities that will enable him to bring humanity to the unequivocal truth of the existence of Hashem and the type of life we have to lead.

Adversity. Pain. Death. Embarrassment. The precursors of human nobility, morality, and royalty. One develops an acute sense of other people’s trials and tribulations when they endure the same. One recognizes the need to always be ready to selflessly absorb another’s needs and to accordingly assist them or elevate their spirits.

The daughters of לוט, Lot, who thought the world was destroyed when they witnessed the destruction of Sodom and Gemorah, impregnated themselves from their father despite the emotional distress involved. Why? To ensure the existence of G-d‘s world.

This trait of unadulterated selflessness for others was genetically part of Rus. In order for its development, she endured much, developing remarkable empathy, leaving hehind her royal family, to protect and inspire her destitute, broken-hearted former mother-in-law; despite the fact that she would be a foreigner in a new land. Of all the women living in Eretz Yisroel, she is chosen by Hashem to be the progenitor of the royal family!

Her husband, בועז, Boaz, is an exemplar of chesed who established a paradigm of enabling all to develop an internal sense of importance and dignity. In chapter 2:4, Boaz greets the workers on his farm, “ה’ עמכם, Hashem should be with you.” Until that point, due to the holiness of the name of Hashem, no one would contemplate using it in a greeting, degrading it by articulating it in mundane conversation. Boaz, who recognized at that time that a sense of true human dignity had been greatly diminished, instituted a dynamic wherein everyone would be aware of their inner connection to Hashem, thereby feeling the responsibility to emulate Hashem by treating all with respect no matter who they are.

This sense of being constantly cognizant of the dignity of every person is what motivated Boaz to initially recognize the superior qualities of Rus. On the eventful night when she went to his dwelling, he didn’t become angry but rather escorted her home in order to protect her – at the expense of his stature – and even took the time to prepare a meal for Naomi. Chesed! When Rus gave birth, she magnanimously allowed Naomi to nurse him! Chesed!

Rav Akiva in his youth declared, “If I meet a Torah scholar I would bite him like a donkey.” רבינו תם explains that in his earlier youth when he wasn’t proficient in Torah knowledge, he felt that those who were, condescendingly looked down upon those who were lacking. He couldn’t process how it is possible that every human is not treated with utmost dignity, no matter who they are! Chesed has no bounds! Everyone human is to be treated as if they are the whole purpose of creation. Tragically, 24,000 of Rav Akiva’s students passed away due to not absorbing their teacher’s mode of behavior, the essence of Torah and the essence of the story of Rus.

In these difficult times, may we gain Hashem’s mercy by recognizing the nobility of all His people.

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