Parsha Chayei Sarah: Chesed in Brooklyn

| parsha reflection |

This week’s Torah portion, or parsha, is called Chayei Sarah, meaning “the life of Sarah”, is so named because its first few words tell us that Sarah lived 127 years. The Torah portion then proceeds with the story of Sarah and her husband Abraham’s family. One section of the portion tells us that Abraham sent his servant, described as “the elder of his household” (Gen. 24:2) to find a wife for Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac.

The servant journeys to the land Abraham is originally from—the Old Country—to find this wife. He ultimately finds Rebekah, who returns with him to marry Isaac. One theme that threads through the servant’s trip and his meeting with Rebekah and her family is the idea of chesed. Chesed is a word that is difficult to translate into English. It is often translated as “kindness,” but it’s more than that. Often the word “lovingkindness” is used for chesed, or “compassionate kindness,” sometimes “faithful kindness.” Abraham’s servant uses this word four times, both to refer to God’s lovingkindness toward Abraham and to ask Rebekah’s family if they will show lovingkindness toward Abraham by allowing Rebekah to go with him and become Isaac’s wife.

The meeting between the servant and Rebekah also shows chesed, or lovingkindness, though the word itself is not used. Rebekah is drawing water from a well, and Abraham’s servant asks her for a drink. She not only immediately gives him a drink, she volunteers to water his camels as well—and if you know how much water a camel can drink and store after a journey through the desert, you know this was no small favor. This lovingkindness is what the servant is looking for in a wife for Isaac, and he finds it in Rebekah—a kindness that is generous and compassionate, and that is not looking for anything in return.

Acts of chesed can be small, like helping a stranger carry a stroller up the subway stairs or picking up an object someone has dropped and returning it to them. Acts of chesed can also be large, like helping someone find a job.

The kavannah I’d like to offer for this parsha is to consider the recent past—the last week or so—what opportunities have we had to act with chesed, with lovingkindness? Did we take those opportunities or let them go by? In what ways have others shown chesed to us? May we increase the chesed in our hearts and in the world by increasing our awareness of our chances to act with chesed and noticing with gratitude when others have shown chesed to us.