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Posted on December 28, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Do chesed and emes for me.[1]

Rashi explains that all chesed performed for the deceased is true chesed. The dead cannot repay the favor. When one performs chesed for the dead, it is a true chesed, because it is not marred by the expectation of reciprocity. In other cases, even when we think that we act altruistically, to some extent – even subconsciously – we are being transactional. What goes around, comes around. If we are good to others, we tell ourselves, they will be good to us. We cannot escape the reality that we are not fully giving, but also investing in a future pay-off.

Yaakov’s point to Yosef is therefore clear. The favor that he asked of Yosef – to ensure his burial in Israel, rather than Egypt – would be unlike any other that he had ever asked of his son. Yaakov could not offer anything at all to Yosef in return, once he would no longer be among the living.

So we readily understand Yaakov’s point. It is not so clear, however, why he had to say it the way he did. He was asking Yosef to tend to his remains after death. Since it is true that any chesed performed for the dead is a chesed shel emes, there was nothing particularly remarkable about the request Yaakov made of his son. It was no different than any request any person makes for post-mortem assistance! Why did he have to point out the obvious?

Furthermore, is it really true that helping the dead is an elevated form of chesed, because there is no expectation of reward? Doesn’t our real reward come from HKBH? He can and does reward us for mitzvos we perform for the dead as well as for the living!

There is another yardstick with which we can measure the fullness, the emes of a chesed we perform. Using it, we can find a different meaning in Yaakov’s words.

We don’t always perform acts of chesed so willingly. Sometimes, an indigent person will ask for a handout when has us essentially trapped. We’re not in the mood to give, and may not have very positive feelings for the would-be recipient. But we cannot easily escape, so we give begrudgingly. Sometimes, we are leveraged by a group of friends who come for our support for some cause or other. We are not very excited about the project or the institution. But there is no way to evade the social pressure to participate alongside them.

In these and similar cases, our chesed is not one of emes. It is tainted and incomplete, as is any mitzvah not performed with simcha. We are taught, “Serve Hashem with simcha!”[2] Doing mitzvos without simcha is actually an aveirah, as is clear from the Tochechah, which explains all the tragedies and horrors which it predicts: “Because you did not serve Hashem your G-d with simcha and goodness of heart.”[3]

We have thus discovered another way of differentiating between a chesed of truth, and one of untruth.

Whenever we are more or less coerced into performing, our chesed is not one of complete truth.

Throughout the last years of his father’s life, Yosef gladly provided for all his needs. Yet, he really had little choice about it. Had he not wanted to, social convention demanded it of him. Egypt was watching how he treated his father; Paroh himself assumed that Yosef would assume the caretaker role of a good son. In some small measure, Yosef’s chesed was not one of complete emes.

Yaakov now provided Yosef with a new level of chesed. It would not be easy for Yosef to resist Paroh’s expectation that there would be a state funeral for Yaakov, with burial in an honored place among Egyptian notables. No one expected Yosef to take his father’s remains back to the ancestral home. He did so nonetheless – happily. It was a genuine chesed shel emes.

  1. Bereishis 47:29
  2. Tehillim 100:1
  3. Devarim 28:47