The first week of the “Omer” count is assigned to the concept of “Chesed”.
Chesed is not as simple of a concept as one would think.
We will start the conversation by assuming that a good translation of the word is “Kindness.” I think that assumption needs to be tweaked, or expanded. But it’s a good starting point.
We encourage children to be kind; we feel all good and warm inside when we see someone showing kindness. So kindness = good.
(The philosophical side of kindness is one that has been explored for a long time.
Emanuel Levinas, a 20th century philosopher, has said that the whole point of any person’s life should be to focus on the “other”.
Ayn Rand, another 20th century philosopher, has said that any Point of View that states that the focus of a person’s life should be another’s well-being is the greatest source of evil. A collection of her essays is entitled The Virtue of Selfishness.
More on them later. Perhaps.)
The Jewish angle seems to be pretty clear-cut: Chesed is good. Avraham Avinu is the paradigm of Chesed, and he’s our first Av, forefather.
Why is Chesed the first of all values? Why is it the beginning?
Because it is the definition of life itself. Every moment is nice. But we all want to extend that moment to the next. Life seeks to expand. I used to think that the main point of life in a “Grand Unified Theory” style was to survive. But looking at the world, from atomic to vegetable, animal, and human, I see that survival is never really enough. All life seeks to extend outward. Those who involve themselves in helping struggling people find a place to eat, unwell people find the right doctor or hospital, unemployed people find jobs, uneducated people get more educated, are doing more than surviving. They are bestowing.
But don’t misunderstand me. It’s not about unfortunate people at all. The desire to build a ship to travel to Mars, or invent the light-bulb, or set the world record for the 100 meter dash, are all manifestations of this as well.
So what is Chesed? A revised definition would be: The deep-seated, pre-rational need that all possess; to extend oneself, to give, to create, to bestow.
And that’s bigger than “kindness”. All of us possess this, even if we don’t define ourselves as “kind”. But we all have our own individual expressions of Chesed.
To be continued…