Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/rafael88/rivertonmussar.org/plugins/system/nonumberelements/helpers/parameters.php on line 130
chesed and truth
middot decisiveness besorah chesed and truth

chesed and truth

Written by  rabbi russ resnik

art-truthsignFor the Torah was given through Moshe; chesed and truth came through Yeshua the Messiah. -- Yochanan 1:17

Chesed is one of those rich Hebrew terms that defy a direct one-word translation into English. We often translate it as lovingkindness, which is actually two words jammed together, and not a word we’d commonly say in modern English at all. Other terms are mercy, love, or grace. But perhaps we can get closer to the meaning of chesed by considering it along with another Hebrew word with which it’s often paired, emet or truth. This combination appears in the Torah when the Lord proclaims to Moses in Exodus 34, “Adonai, Adonai, God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in chesed v’emet—goodness and truth.”

 

Scholars tell us that “chesed v’emet” in this passage and others like it is a hendiadys or “a word pair [used] to express a single concept” (Nahum Sarna; JPS Torah commentary). In this view the phrase means “covenant faithfulness,” “true kindness,” or, as the NJPS translates it, “kindness and faithfulness.” Sarna comments, “The combination of terms expresses God’s absolute and eternal dependability in dispensing His benefactions.”

Accordingly, Yochanan is saying that the Torah comes through Moses, but the character that Torah seeks to develop, the character that reflects God’s own character, comes through Yeshua the Messiah. Chesed v’emet—grace and truth—doesn’t replace Torah, of course, but describes a consistent character of active kindness that Torah is to form in us. This character is embodied fully in Messiah Yeshua, the living Torah.

In this reading, the two terms reinforce each other, but we can also think of them as contrasting with each other. Usually a hendiadys takes two opposite terms to express a single broad concept. Thus “day and night” means “all the time” (or 24/7 as we’d say nowadays), and “good and evil,” as in the story of Garden of Eden, means “everything.” The two terms of a hendiadys remain opposites, however, and there’s something important to learn from that in the case of chesed and emet.

In real life some folks may be very truthful, but not very kind or loving. Others might be so kind and loving that they’re not always truthful. After all, it’s hard to be kind and truthful at the same time; to tell someone the truth, or to stand firm for an unpopular truth, in a kind way. As the old saying goes, “the truth hurts,” and because of this it can seem unkind. How do you tell people in a kind way that their efforts are misdirected, that their work isn’t up to par, or that their judgment in some important matter is questionable? But mussar recognizes that all the middot can be overdone. Chesed v’emet, opposite though they might be, need each other to reach fulfillment.

And that might be just the point—that God is able to combine ultimate chesed and ultimate truth without compromising either. Those who emulate God through mussar will work on combining both, on “speaking the truth in love,” as Rav Shaul directs us (Eph. 4:15). Either chesed or truth alone can become imbalanced. Yeshua embodies the balance, and mussar directs us to work on that balance too if we want to follow him.

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

this week


Moshe Rabbenu teaches loving-kindness
Here's a drash on loving-kindness adapted from my book Creation to Completion, wh . . .
chesed and truth
For the Torah was given through Moshe; chesed and truth came through Yeshua the M . . .
chesed and forgiveness
In his commentaries in both the Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur Koren Machzorim Rabbi . . .
how the world stands
A woman died and left no money to pay for her funeral. She was an inhabitant of o . . .
His chesed is always there!
One of the high points of the Passover Seder every year, especially when our ki . . .
do a chesed
There was an older gentleman I used to to interact with fairly regularly at a Ra . . .
bottled up kindness
'The kindnesses of the Lord I shall sing forever; to generation after generation . . .
showering chesed
The Hebrew word for loving-kindness is chesed.    . . .

Member Login

Login to access podcasts, special content, discussion forums and user blogs.