In the Sayings of the Fathers (PIrkei Avot) 1:2, Shimon the Righteous, Shimon HaTzaddik, [one of the Sages of the Sanhedrin or Great Assembly established from the time of Ezra] states that the world is built, or stands in balance, on three things: the Word of God (Torah); the service or worship of God (avodah); and acts of kindness (chesed). Also, Psalm 89:1-2 tells us:
“I will sing of the lovingkindness [chesed] of the Lord forever … For I have said, ‘Lovingkindness shall be built up forever.’”
In Scripture the qualities of chesed and tzedakah, along with emet, truth, often are linked. Here I explore these concepts in an ‘imaginary’ conversation (based on many we used to enjoy!) by posing questions and presenting Dwight’s quotes (based on his teachings) in answer. Food for thought!
Keren Hannah Pryor with Dr. DWIGHT A. PRYOR on
CHESED and TZEDAKAH – Lovingkindness and Righteousness
KH: How would you describe the quality of chesed?
DAP: “Chesed is a chief characteristic of the God of Israel and a core covenantal concept. Its range of meaning is wide and deep: lovingkindness, mercy, steadfast love, covenant loyalty and even grace.”
KH: What is the difference, and connection, between chesed, tzedakah and emet, love and kindness and righteousness and truth?
DAP: “Tzedakah, better translated as ‘righteousness,’ is a richly hued term in Hebrew. In the broad scope of biblical revelation it is used together and synonymously with ‘truth’ and also with ‘salvation’—in the context of God’s redemptive, saving acts in keeping covenant promises to Israel (e.g., Micah 6:4-5).”
“We see in the life of Jesus the outworking of salvation in the embrace of truth, tzedek, and kindness, chesed. In him, righteousness (the high standards of the Torah) and grace (the mercy of a gracious Father) embrace. Indeed, the Messiah embodies the way of love and truth that leads to life. In the Son we see a Father who abounds in justice, tzedek, and in love, chesed.”
KH: In Judaism the righteous, the saints, are called tzaddikim. Today, in modern Hebrew usage, tzedakah more generally means charity or giving.
DAP: Jesus also used it this way in Matthew 6:1: “Beware of practicing your righteousness [charity] before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” On the other hand, Jesus taught that the genuine practice of righteousness toward the needy—i.e., giving generously to the poor—will give us “treasure in heaven.”
Pic: Tzedakah box; a tin in which to save money to give to the poor or a worthy cause.
This is a powerful and practical principle for us all today. Let us engage in acts of kindness, g’milut chasadim, that will honor His Name and help repair a world presently broken and evidencing much evil and lack of chesed, tzedakah and emet; destined, however, according to His Word and promise, wondrously to declare the Father’s glory.