Chesed as Vocation 1
By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Doing chesed is wonderful, but is qualitatively different from
becoming a chesed personality.
One who performs chesed responds compassionately to anyone in need
of it. He does not, however, seek out new situations to which he can bring
his chesed. The person whose core is suffused with chesed
will chase after tzedakah and chesed. He stands ready to
sacrifice the material – and even the spiritual – in order to do
chesed to others.
A medrash  has HKBH chiding Eyov. “You sit comfortably in your house,
and guests come to you. You have not achieved half the measure of Avraham!
He goes about seeking out guests.” The Torah depicts the chesed of
Avraham in its full blossom. Weak and in pain three days after
circumcision at an advanced age, he was free of any obligation to toil in
the service of others. Concerned for his comfort, HKBH created a heat wave
that would protect him from intrusive bother. Instead, Avraham was pained
because he could not serve guests, and sat expectantly, waiting for their
arrival. The presence of the Shechinah, and the opportunity to converse
with the Divine Presence, was not sufficient to keep Avraham from his
guests. He left the Shechinah behind, as it were, and ran to greet his
guests, forever teaching us that offering proper hospitality to guests is
more important than receiving the Divine Presence. Avraham paid no
attention to the identities of the recipients of his largesse. It made no
difference to him if they were righteous people or lowly idolatrous Arabs.
This is because no external factor, no perceived need aroused his need to
give. That propensity for chesed presented itself constantly, at
all times. Avraham directed it even towards those who opposed what he
stood for; he fervently prayed for the evildoers of the city of Sodom.
Acting kindly to someone who needs assistance very often unwittingly
causes some pain or discomfort to the recipient. Within our nature is a
sense of shame in taking what we have not earned or deserved. As much as
we think we enjoy something for nothing, it meets with deep resentment
within us. Avraham’s chesed avoided this pitfall. Notice how many
times he spoke to his guests as if they were doing him a favor by joining
him: “Please, if I have found favor in your eyes; please do not pass by
your servant.” He turned to the travelers, fatigued and thirsty in the
brutal heat, and spoke to them as if they would be performing an act of
kindness by joining him. He inverted the roles of benefactor and
beneficiary, making himself the recipient and his guests the givers.
Eliezer’s spring-side test of a potential match for Yitzchok made use of
this distinction between doing chesed and the chesed
personality. He would not be satisfied by an offer to provide him with
water. A compassionate person might very well volunteer such assistance.
The reaction of the chesed personality takes over at precisely this
point. Eliezer’s request to Rivka implied that he needed water and
nothing else, that he would be quite comfortable after that. The
chesed personality is unperturbed by the lack of need, and finds
other places to direct the quest to give.
Chesed opportunities envelop every aspect of a person’s life – his
property, his body, his house, and his soul. chesed with one’s
property includes tzedakah to the poor, extending support to one
who has come upon hard times, and lending money to one in need. One who
refrains from lending money – even in the face of the cancellation of the
debt through the approaching Shemitah year – is called a “base” deed.
The Torah warns against performing these monetary mitzvos with imperfect
intent. “Do not find it evil in your heart when you give.” It wants
us to give from the fullness of our hearts.
Chesed with our bodies concerns us in two discrete ways. On the one
hand, we are commanded to bodily perform a variety of mitzvos: visiting
the sick, burying the dead, unloading and loading distressed animals,
returning lost property, etc. Within these commandments, however, we
discern another level of chesed. We should ready our bodies in
anticipation of acts of chesed, that they should be ready to jump
into service, eager to perform as if they were collecting rare treasure.
Chesed with our homes affords us the opportunity to turn them
entirely into mitzvah objects, sanctifying them entirely to Hashem.
Offering hospitality allows us to do chesed to rich and poor alike,
in addition to tzedakah which by definition must restrict itself to
Hachnosas orchim, Chazal tell us, is greater than receiving the
Shechinah. A simple analogy explains this. Imagine a good friend appearing
on your door step, unannounced. If he is a dear friend, you will react
with unrestrained joy in seeing him, and lavish all kinds of attention
upon him. Could anything demonstrate warmth and closeness more than such a
Yes, indeed. Imagine the son of your friend arriving in a similar
manner. Moreover, you have never met him before. There is no relationship
between you. If you receive him with the same enthusiasm and alacrity as
you would his father, you have made a powerful statement. He returns to
his father and relates the happiness that greeted him when people learned
that he was the son of their dear friend, and treated him royally. The
father’s satisfaction is even greater when this unknown and unrecognized
son of his is so graciously received, simply because he is the son of his
Every Jew is a prince, the son of the King. When a Jews welcomes some
unknown and unrecognized son of the King, he brings great satisfaction to
the Father. We should be prepared to wait upon them and serve them
ourselves, as did Avraham, despite being much greater than his guests and
us. We multiply the value of the gracious reception when the guests are
Torah scholars or people who have done great deeds, who continue their
holy work from within our homes. When we do so, we mix chesed and
The greatest form of chesed is performed with our inner selves.
When a friend is broken and in anguish, we can not only show that we take
part in his pain, but bear it as an equal partner. We can identify with
the pain so completely, that we experience it as our own. There is no
greater support we can offer another as taking on his pain as an equal.
Sharper than any physical pain or financial loss is the mental pain, and
the loneliness in feeling that no one understands his situation or stands
with him. The true chesed personality will find a way to
demonstrate his solidarity at such a time, showing himself to be a caring
brother, encouraging him and supporting him, breathing into him new life
of belief that Hashem will care for him, and that there will be an end to
This kind of chesed is a fulfillment of two mitzvos. We are
commanded to “walk in His ways,” to imitate His midos of
chesed and rachamim. It follows that we are obligated to
commiserate with a person in pain, even when he will not respond or will
not even know the depth of our feeling. We must do it to attach ourselves
to Hashem’s trait of compassion. Additionally, part of the basic level of
loving another as ourselves [ 8] is to resist and fight any pain to
another. We cannot do that without first understanding it, and only then
battle against it.
Doing so is the highest form of chesed there can be.
1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, vol. 1, pgs 100-101
2. Avos de-Rebbi Noson chap. 7 s.v veyihiyu aniyim
3. According to Chazal, they not only were evil, but part of their evil
was a rejection of chesed! They thus legislated against the
performance of acts of kindness to strangers.
4. Bereishis 18:3
5. Devarim 15:9
6. Devarim 15:10
7. Devarim 28:9
8. Vayikra 19:18
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org