July 24, 2024

Showing Loving Kindness Through Chesed Shel Emes

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Everyone’s time on this Earth is finite, so no life should begin or end in the absence of love. That’s why the Jewish value of chesed shel emes, or true loving-kindness, is so significant. It’s a way to show compassion and care for those who have passed on, ensuring that their memory is honored and their dignity preserved.

What Does Chesed Shel Emes Mean?

Chesed shel emes is a Hebrew phrase that means “true loving-kindness”. It refers to acts of loving kindness and compassion performed for someone who has passed away and can no longer repay or acknowledge them. These selfless acts are considered especially admirable because they are done without any expectation of reward or recognition. Those familiar with the Eight Degrees of Giving will recognize this as the highest, purest form of philanthropy and charity (tzedakah).

Where This Jewish Tradition Originates

The Torah teaches that performing acts of kindness for the deceased is a great, meaningful mitzvah. In the Talmud (Sukkah 49b), Rabbi Hama, son of Rabbi Hanina, explains that acts of kindness like chesed shel emes are superior to charity because the giver’s good is unlimited.

This selfless form of giving is exemplified in the Torah when Abraham purchases the Cave of Machpelah to bury his wife Sarah (Genesis 23). Despite his grief, Abraham goes to great lengths to secure a proper burial place, teaching us the importance of honoring the deceased.

The Modern-Day Significance of Chesed Shel Emes

The origins of chesed shel emes begin in religious texts and Jewish law (halacha), but its modern-day meaning has a lot to do with more recent Jewish history. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Chesed shel emes was a way for survivors to honor the memory of loved ones who were so brutally taken from them. Acts towards meit mitzvah bodies affirmed the enduring dignity and worth of every human life while helping to rebuild a sense of community and connection among those still living.

Examples of Chesed Shel Emes

Chesed shel emes is a powerful reminder of the importance of community in Judaism. Engaging in it by noticing the good (Hakarat Hatov) in hard times and building support systems for widows not only honors the memory of the dead but also strengthens the bonds that connect us all. And just like other forms of giving, chesed shel emes can have deeply transformative psychological benefits for givers as well. All acts of Jewish charity tradition, whether big or small, build a better world (tikkun olam) for all.

Here are just a few examples of what chesed shel emes can look like in practice:

  • Helping to prepare the body for burial (tahara)
  • Participating in the burial (kevura)
  • Sitting with the body to guard it (shemira)
  • Providing meals and support to the mourners during the seven-day mourning period (shiva).
  • Regularly visiting the gravesite to tend to it and say prayers
  • Donating to charities or causes that were important to the deceased
  • Sharing stories and memories to keep the person’s legacy alive
  • Reciting prayers and blessings like kaddish (mourner’s prayer)
  • Making donations in memory of the deceased to organizations for the poor and non-profit hunger initiatives

Showing True Kindness to the Living and the Dead

Compassionate giving takes many forms. For some, it holds the most meaning as a material practice like saving maos chitim (money for wheat) or tithing (ma’aser kesafim). But giving to others can be equally powerful through acts of humility (anavah), justice (tzedek), hospitality (Hachnasat Orchim), and human dignity and respect (kavod HaBriyot)

Chabad leaders and famous Jewish philanthropists like Rabbi Meir Baal Haness and even more recent examples such as Hannah Greenebaum Solomon (a female Jewish leader behind several large organizations for children’s education) aren’t notable for giving enough tangible tzedakah, but because they dedicated their lives to important causes.

So yes, donating dollars on Chanukah is commendable. It’s a beautiful ritual (Hiddur mitzvah) to practice giving over the soul (Mesirus nefesh). Peace in one’s home (Mitzvah of Shalom Bayit) and greater community can only be achieved through a lifestyle of work and service (avodah). We often use the phrase ‘Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh‘ to define this communal responsibility (Arvut Hadadit) at large. The meaning of tzedek holds value in acts towards the living and the dead – what matters most is our commitment to building this world with kindness (Olam Chesed Yibaneh).

How Acts of Kindness Impact Entire Communities

It’s important to recognize that the underlying virtues of chesed shel emes, such as true kindness and compassion, are practicable outside of cases of death. Visiting the sick, protecting the poor and vulnerable, comforting the bereaved, and supporting those in need are all examples of Jewish charity tradition in practice.

There are also plenty of ways to donate to Jewish charities while honoring time-old traditions. Pe’ah (corners), which originates from farmers’ practice of saving a portion of their harvest for those who are hungry, can now be practiced by giving to organizations that fight food insecurity through online donation platforms.

Individuals can sign up to volunteer and make an impact with their time. Entire families may have the power to uplift themselves generation after generation by affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.

Help Colel Chabad Promote Acts of True Kindness on a Global Scale

The importance of community in Judaism is evident when you look at how entire synagogues get involved in altruistic initiatives – supporting everything from local healthcare projects to charities for orphans. While the Jewish diaspora is very well-dispersed, our people still strive to make a meaningful impact wherever and however they can.

Among the oldest charities in Israel, Colel Chabad’s history of philanthropic work is a testament to the enduring power of chesed shel emes. Founded by prominent rebbes of the Chabad movement in 1788, our non-profit organization has been providing food, housing, and social services to the needy in the Holy Land for over 200 years. 

Donations to us support programs for individuals from all walks of life on an ongoing basis, but even more so on holidays of giving like Passover, which holds deep charitable meaning.

Chesed Menachem Mendel Orphan Intervention

The Chesed Menachem Mendel Orphan Intervention program provides critical support and services to orphaned children in need. By focusing on this vulnerable population, we hope to give orphans the care, stability, and resources they require to thrive.

Retreats for Widows

Retreats provide a chance for widows to step away from their day-to-day hardships to find respite, healing, and solidarity. Participants engage in counseling, workshops, and bonding activities to help them cope with their losses and connect with others who uniquely understand their challenges.

Soup Kitchens

A warm bowl of soup can go a long way in nourishing the body and lifting the spirit. Our soup kitchens across Israel provide hot, nutritious meals to those struggling with hunger and poverty throughout the Jewish calendar year.

Support networks for Jewish families are needed now more than ever as the world needs help with unprecedented humanitarian crises. Don’t wait any longer – support Colel Chabad’s mission to save souls (Pikuach Nefesh) by getting involved today.


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