Kindness and Reality

Rabbi Misha Shulman
3 min readFeb 4, 2022

I had the privilege of sitting on a rabbinical court for a conversion yesterday. During the ceremony I asked the young woman what she is carrying with her from her previous spiritual traditions into this stage in her life. Her answer surprised me with its simplicity. “Kindness,” she said. We Jews like to think a lot, to chew on big spiritual ideas like dogs on a bone. In our intellectual rigor, our historical anxiety, our internal searching, we often forget the purpose of this entire operation. The spiritual idea at its heart is what the Torah calls Chesed, often translated as “lovingkindness.”

God is the ultimate carrier of this trait. On the High Holidays we recite the thirteen attributes of God, including “Rav Chesed:” Full, or lots of chesed. God oozes chesed. The Zohar depicts God dripping the milky waters of love down in streams that sustain everything. Chesed is an effortless generosity that goes beyond any conceivable reason or justification and is done simply for the sake of it.

The best example of it is the creation of the world. Maimonides builds his explanation like this:

Loving-kindness is practiced in two ways: first, we show kindness to those who have no claim whatever upon us; secondly, we are kind to those to whom it is due, in a greater measure than is due to them.”

The second way is easier than the first. I think of parenting. Even when one of my kids is being rude, ungrateful or mean, I still (on good days) look for a way to be kind and loving. This type of above and beyond kindness is expressed by the prophet Hosea:

זִרְע֨וּ לָכֶ֤ם לִצְדָקָה֙ קִצְר֣וּ לְפִי־חֶ֔סֶד

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love

The commentator Malbim explains: “Like how from one planted seed you will reap many sheaves.” One tiny seed of goodness doesn’t create one sheaf of reward, but many.

But it’s the first way that is the deeper form of chesed. Maimonides continues:

“In the inspired writings (the bible) the term cḥesed occurs mostly in the sense of showing kindness to those who have no claim on us whatever. For this reason, the term cḥesed is employed to express the good bestowed upon us by God.

Rabbi Misha Shulman

Jerusalem born, Misha has been working at the cusp of religion, art and activism since 1999. Rabbi @ The New Shul and Director of School for Creative Judaism.