Parshas Acharei Mos - Kedoshim
Giving for a Good Cause
Rabbi Pinchas Avruch
Chapter 18 of Vayikra/Leviticus contains a lengthy series of forbidden
personal relationships and chapter 20 designates the penalties meted out
against those who engage in them. "A man who shall take his sister...it is a
disgrace and they shall be cut off in the eyes of the people of their
nation." (20:17) The Hebrew word used for "disgrace" in this verse is
"chesed", a word that usually carries the positive connotation of a
charitable act of kindness. How is it appropriate for this context?
Rashi, Nachmanides and other early commentators explain that the word
"chesed" does have an alternative connotation of "shame" and that is the
context in which it is used here. Also quoted is the Talmud (Tractate
Sanhedrin 58b) that explains the verse in Tehillim/Psalms (89:3) "Kindness
(chesed) will build a world," that G-d's kindness in allowing Cain to marry
his sister allowed the world to be built and populated. Thus, as much as
such a relationship is inherently disgraceful, there is a facet of kindness
An alternative understanding is offered by Michtav MeEliyahu (collected
writings and discourses of Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, 1891-1954, of
London and Bnei Brak, one of the outstanding thinkers of the Mussar
movement). "Chesed" of holiness, chesed as we usually think of it, is giving
of ourselves completely for the benefit of others out of our love for G-d
and our desire to emulate His holy attributes. In contrast, profane
"chesed", the unthinkable acts discussed in our Parsha, are rooted in an
absolute commitment to depravity and our desire to fulfill our base urges.
In essence, Rabbi Dessler defines "chesed" as self-nullification out of love
and devotion to a cause. Our life's challenge is consistently choosing the
cause to which we channel our energy: do we indulge in mundane
self-gratification or invest in the sanctification of the world around us?
Have a good Shabbos!
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Pinchas Avruch and Project Genesis, Inc.
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