As Jews, we perform chesed for people in the following order: 1.people who are closest to us, 2. our neighbors and 3. the rest of the world.
We are blessed to live in a community that encourages chesed. I interviewed two rabbis, Rabbi Menachem Goldberger, of Tiferes Yisroel, and Rabbi Shmuel Silber, of Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim, both of whom had recently encouraged their congregants to increase the amount of chesed they were doing.
Rabbi Goldberger said chesed is the “central way of a Jew.” He said he looks forward to learning “Ahavas Chesed” (“Love of Kindness”) by Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen (the Chofetz Chaim) with his congregants, and encouraging them to incorporate chesed into their homes, shul and community.
When I asked Rabbi Goldberger about the fact that some families feel overwhelmed and can’t seem to perform any extra chesed outside their home, he responded that in some cases, the family dynamics need to be addressed. For example, some families may only be able to focus on chesed within their family, whereas other families will have the ability to focus on chesed outside the family.
He said, “Performing chesed for someone else can liberating for one who is overwhelmed.”
Rabbi Goldberger suggested the entire family engage in chesed activities such as visiting the sick or elderly, making a meal for someone who just had a baby or making guests feel welcome.
Rabbi Silber discussed how in his Kol Nidrei drasha, he recommended that his constituents increase their level of chesed. He stated that performing chesed “refines us” and “makes us into better people.”
“Being a baal chesed [someone who performs acts of kindness] will make a husband more attentive to the needs of his wife. When you live life to benefit the other, it changes and enhances all of your life relationships,” he said.
Jewish law requires that a man be as concerned about his wife as he would be about himself. Happiness fills their lives when each spouse is concerned for the other (“Sifre”). Therefore, a necessary factor for building a marriage and a happy home is kindness. Marriage is an opportunity to shift the focus from oneself to one’s spouse and to be concerned about one’s spouse’s wellbeing.
I want to encourage readers to look for small opportunities to perform chesed in their homes, such as being more compassionate, speaking more gently and lovingly, smiling more frequently, making a favorite meal for one of your family members, calling a family member who you haven’t spoken to recently, writing an “I love you” note and placing it in a family member’s lunch, under his or her pillow or on his or her desk, taking out the garbage or doing laundry with an appreciation for the fact that you have food and clothes, giving your child an extra hug, preparing a drink for your spouse when he or she comes home or being loving to your family even when you are upset. Our increased level of chesed should bring blessing to the people of Israel.
A special thanks to Rabbi Goldberger and Rabbi Silber for their time.
Lisa (Elisheva) Rabinowitz is a local licensed clinical professional counselor. She can be reached at 410-736-8118 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her suggestions are for couples in healthy relationships and exclude those in abusive relationships.