The power of chesed


I have been blessed with many kind friends with whom I can share and enjoy. I recently had a friend over for dinner and noted how attentive she was to what I was saying. She stayed with my explanations and visibly showed her care and love. As she was leaving, I thanked her more than once for her kindness, for being there for me, listening, caring and truly sharing in my joy.

This kind of connection with others is so important – something most of us need and want. When we get derailed in our relationships, it’s often through miscommunications, not expressing our needs, wants and feelings, not reaching out, and fear of getting too close. 

Kindness and positive connections are both a gift and vital sustenance. And when we seek rich, full and kind relationships, we set an example for those around us.

Many stories, articles and books have been written about good deeds, mitzvot and connection with others. In his article “Day to Day Judaism: Kindness,” Rabbi Maurice Lamm, on, discusses the meaning of chesed.  

“What is quite clearly the most consistent and all-embracing act of faith is called chesed, which means Kindness and implies the giving of oneself to helping another without regard to compensation. 

“In a sense, the goal of the whole enterprise of Judaism is to develop human beings whose principal trait is chesed. The rabbis of the Talmud (Yevamot 79a) considered kindness to be one of the three distinguishing marks of the Jew.”

In my book “Pathfinding,” my father, alav ha-shalom, told the following story about  chesed from a stranger, which stayed in his memory throughout his life.

“In the mid-30s, when I was in college, jobs were hard to find. One summer I was lucky to get a Saturday morning job from 6:00 a.m. to noon unloading banana boats in Boston. My first assignment involved carrying what they called a stalk of bananas from the hold of the ship up vertical steps to the processing area offshore.

“The stalks were trimmed … for the bananas to be packaged for shipping. The weight of each stalk varied from forty to eighty pounds. They hung from the ceiling of the ship’s hold in rows. Each of us would wear a rubber shoulder apron and stand beneath the next stalk. The man standing there would cut the string holding the stalk and it would drop onto your shoulder. Then burdened with the heavy stalk, you’d walk up the stairs to the processing areas.

“It was backbreaking work. But I’ll never forget the time it was my luck, or misfortune, to stand under an oversized stalk. I had difficulty carrying that load up the steps. I didn’t think I would make it. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a hand took me by the seat of my pants and pushed me up the ladder until I could gain my balance and carry the load to the processing room. 

“When I turned around to see who had given me that wonderful helpful hand, I looked directly into the face of a huge African-American man. At the time he had pushed me up the ladder, he was carrying his own load. I’ll never forget the kind look on his face. 

“It taught me to appreciate kindness wherever and from whomever I find it.”

PATRICIA RASKIN hosts “The Patricia Raskin Show” on Saturdays at 4 p.m. on WPRO, 630 AM/99.7 FM. Raskin is a board member of Providence’s Temple Emanu-El.