Friday, March 16, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram for March 16, 2001

Evidently the problem was widespread enough, especially on AOL, that I am sending this week's O'gram out once more, this time in plain format -- no colors, no italics, no frills.  It looks like I may have to go this route from here on, but I'll give it another week or two to be sure.  I apologize for the inconvenience.

Shabbat Shalom!

Welcome to our "Adar Madness" edition of the Shabbat-O-Gram.  No NCAA basketball predictions yet, but I do have a sports-related quickie quiz:  Why would this be Phil Rizzuto's favorite Shabbat? (See answer at bottom)

A Byte of Torah: Unto The Fourth Generation

This week we read one of the most mysterious and theologically potent passages of the entire Torah, the oft-repeated "Attributes of Divine Mercy."  Following the Golden Calf debacle, the stage was set for this historic reconciliation between God and Israel, with Moses as the conduit.  To the extent that we can begin to "know" God, we are told that such knowledge can never come visually, as with an idol; but ethically, through acts of kindness.  We'll take a closer look at the concept of kindness (Hesed) in our Web journey below.  Another key question beckons here.  With all the talk of God imparting kindness "to thousands," why does this otherwise uplifting passage conclude with a stern warning that a parent's crimes will be reckoned upon the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, all the way to the fourth generation (really the fifth, including the parents)?  What stands behind this form of generational collective punishment?

It's noteworthy that mercy knows no bounds here, but that punishment clearly has a statute of limitations placed on it (albeit one stretched to great great grandchildren).  In his new Torah commentary, Richard Elliott Friedman adds that five generations constitutes the maximum time of living acquaintance.  Also, he notes that Israelite rock-cut tombs prior to the 7th century BCE were multi chambered, with room for at least four generations of offspring. Finally, he comments that psychological traits appear persevere through that many generations.  It's not that my great great grandchildren will be punished for my sins, per se, but that my deeds will have consequences that will trickle down to them: embarrassment, pride, stigma, and both conscious and unconscious imitation. 

A perfect example for today would be that of Germany.  There is no longer any talk of punishment or collective guilt for Germans born since 1945.  But there is a collective burden that they bear and will continue to, quite likely unto the fourth generation.  Fifty years from now, the shadow of the Holocaust will undoubtedly continue to haunt them.  The Torah, then, is speaking not of divine vengeance but of the way things are in real life.  It is not God alone who "Nosay avon v'fesha v'hata'ah," who "bears (our) crime, offense and sin."  It is our grandchildren, and their grandchildren too, who will have to pay the price -- or reap the rewards.




Shabbat Candlelighting 
on Friday at 5:46 PM

Kabbalat Shabbat service: 8:00 (No Shabbat Shalom family service this week -- it will be held next Friday, March 23, at 6:15, prior to our Congregational Shabbat Dinner.  To reserve for the dinner, contact Bonnie at 322-6901 X306)

Shabbat Morning: Pesukey d'zimra (preliminary service) 9:15 AM. Shacharit at 9:30. Mazal Tov to Bradley Wunderlich, who becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning.

Children's Services: 10:30 (in the Chapel and Kindergarten room)

Torah Portion (Ki Tissa -- Shabbat Parah). The Learn Torah With commentary can be found at
and Chancellor Schorsch's commentary at

Shabbat Ends: 6:46 PM Saturday

Daily Minyan: Sunday at 9, weekdays at 7:30 AM. While we normally do have at least ten at each service, please e-mail me to let me know if you wish to be here for a yahrzeit and want to make sure we have a minyan that day.


MINI PARLOR CONCERT: Sunday, March 18, 11-Noon, featuring the family Pasternak in a delightful mini-concert of instrumental and vocal arrangements of Klezmer, Hebrew, Israeli and Yiddish music. Pre-concert reception at 10:30

ATID PROGRAM (K-2): Sunday afternoon, a field trip to the Mother Earth Mining Company.

By popular demand, we are organizing an adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class, with the goal of completing the course in about a year and preparing for a service in May of 2002. The course of study will be taught by ther Hazzan, Barb Moskow and myself, and include some synagogue skills and a basic overview of Jewish history, prayer, customs and ceremonies and sacred texts.  We will gladly accommodate all levels of Hebrew proficiency. If you are at all interested (and at least seven have already signed on), please contact the education office (322-6901 X306).  An organizational meeting will be held on Tues., April 24, at 8:00 PM. Subsequent classes will likely be held on Thursday evenings.

YOM HA-SHOAH: The Legacy of the Generations
This year's community-wide Holocaust Remembrance Day program, to be held here on the evening of April 19, will focus on the second and third generations of survivors. If you are a child or grandchild of a survivor and would be interested in sharing your story, please let me know. How have the stories you grew up with changed your life? What do you feel is your special legacy or obligation as the descendant of a survivor? The program will feature brief testimonies given by people of all ages, including children, and we will be collecting additional written testimonies to be distributed that night.

Christian Jewish Perspectives Series, this Tuesday, Mar. 20, 7:30 p.m. at the JCC. "Spirituality vs. Organized Religion" featuring Yours Truly and Rev. Dr. James Kowalski, St. Luke's Episcopal Church.  Sponsored by the Council of Churches and Synagogues.

Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) Workshop, March 18, 12-2:30 PM, at Agudath Sholom. It is very important that more Beth El members participate in this vital organization that does such important and work in preparing Jews for burial in a dignified and loving way. For more information, contact Stephen and Penny Block at 316-0519.

JEWISH HERITAGE TOUR OF EASTERN EUROPE: JULY 1-15, with Hazzan Rabinowitz.  Includes Warsaw, Kracow, Budapest, Prague, Vienna.  For information, contact Hazzan Rabinowitz at 322-6901 X309.

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism first-ever Tri-Regional Shabbaton/Convention: Mar. 23-25, hosted by Congregation Knesset Israel - Pittsfield, MA. For information call (800) 594-7098.

We're doing it again! "BOOKS & VIDEOS 4-KIDS" A program designed to share children's books and children's videos (new or used, but in good condition) with kids who need them. Please donate your books/videos and place them in the box near the Temple office, and we'll make sure they get to agencies which help kids here and in Israel. Funds are also needed to pay for shipping them to Israel. Collection will take place Mar. 1 - 30. Sue and Alison Greenwald, 329-1662.

BETH EL CARES, the social action arm of Temple Beth El, has begun a letter writing campaign to the soldiers in Israel to let them know we care and are thinking of them. You may write whatever is in your heart.Special Beth El Cares cards are available in the synagogue office for FREE. You may use your own stationery or cards if you wish. Everyone can participate…adults and children. School age children may write a card and younger children may draw a picture.Because the Israeli government cannot give out names, you can address your card to "Dear Friend" or whatever salutation you choose. Please bring your cards back to the
synagogue office where they will be sent collectively to Israel. Beth El Cares will pay for the postage.

FANTASTIC PURIM PHOTOS ARE UP on our Web site,, as well as photos from our recent Senior's Lunch and Dinner Dance.



While the Golden Calf account makes it clear that God's essence can not be ascertained visually, God's presence is revealed to Moses through what has become known as the "Attributes of Mercy,"  found in Exodus 34:7.  Of all the terms found in this famous passage, the key one is Hesed.  To understand what Hesed is, at least in some sense, to understand divinity.  While we could never hope to come as close to God as Moses did, (and I'm not too keen on having to wear a veil for the rest of my life, as subsequently happened to Moses, anyway), who knows what insights we might find as we peel away at the layers of this key Jewish concept?  And so we dive....

1) Defining the Term:

Let's begin with the Britannica, at,5716,37042+1,00.htmlwhich informs us that the term is "an attribute of God said to be imitated by those who in any of countless ways show personal kindness toward others. A Jew who does not manifest sensitive concern for others is considered no better than an atheist, regardless of his knowledge of the Torah."

Hey, some of my best friends are atheists!  But at least the Brits have gotten beyond that Shylock syndrome -- the site's definition even goes on to show how Jews are expected to be kind and ethical money lenders.  A Google search turns up this definition:

Hesed is a peculiarly and distinctive Hebrew word which has no adequate translation into English. The best definition of the word is "the steadfast love" which exists in a relationship between two partners in a covenant. Yet it is not merely an attitude or emotion. Hesed is a beneficent action performed in a deep and enduring commitment, where the receiver of the action could not have helped himself or herself. This is more characteristic of God than of humans because of God's divine nature. God loves because God is love. Hesed is the enduring quality of God to continue to love sinners in hope that they will repent and renew the covenant. Thus it defined the relationship between Yahweh and the Israelites

These contrasting definitions present us with this question: Are human beings capable of true Hesed, or does this quality belong solely to the realm of the divine? 

A good Christian definition comes from, a site that provides filters and screen savers for churches. They define Hesed as "the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God!"

And how do we show that relentless love for God?  From a Jewish perspective, at least, such passionate love for God can best be demonstrated through equally passionate acts of Hesed toward other human beings.  And while your visiting this Hesed site, stop off at to see the spectacular display of photographic greeting cards.  To look out at the peaks of Yosemite helps us to imagine how Moses must have felt in that crag atop Sinai.

A more bookish explanation of Hesed can be found at, and you can see what Hadassah Magazine had to say, at we learn that the term is "so full of vigor that it has the power to mean both goodness and its opposite, abomination.

Overwhelmingly, in Hebrew Scripture the word retains its positive connotation. One of the 13 attributes of God is rav Hesed, abundant goodness. The proverbial woman of valor is praised for the torat Hesed, righteous learning, that is always on her tongue. When Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, eulogized his wife, Paula, he quoted Jeremiah's zakharti lakh hesed ne'uraikh, "I remember the kindnesses of your youth."

There is an expression, Hesed Shel Emet, that is applied specifically to the one good deed that cannot be repaid — accompanying a dead body to burial. Other specific terms using our root are somewhat tricky: Gemilut Hesed, an interest-free loan, and Gemilut Hasadim, charity, philanthropy.

Everybody knows that, according to the Rabbis, the way to celebrate before a bride is to sing Kallah Na'ah Va-hasudah, a beautiful and gracious bride. The Talmud asks why a stork is called a Hasidah. Because, the Rabbis answer, she does Hasidut, acts of kindness, to her friends. And why, therefore, is the stork counted among the unclean animals? Because she is kind only to her own kind.

And where, you ask, does Hesed mean abomination? My Brown, Driver and Briggs Biblical Lexicon informs us that in Leviticus 20:17 and Proverbs 14:34 it means "shameful" and "reviled."  Maybe the stork's name is a lesson to us all, that kindness to one's own kind alone is not true Hesed -- rather, it is perversity of Hesed.  To contain truly an element of the Divine, kindness cannot stop at the front door.

2) Crossing Boundaries

And so, we leave the neighborhood.  Hesed is found all over the Web, transcending boundaries of culture and language, even of reality and fiction.  Click on and you'll come to a Trekkie site revealing the Klingon "House of Hesed."  And go to you'll find yourself in a restaurant somewhere in Korea.  A number of Hesed links that I tried appear in Japanese.  And of the many dozens of Jewish links for Hesed organizations, including synagogue and communal social action committees like Denver's Hebrew Educational Alliance (, an extraordinary percentage appeared in Russian, including a Hesed society helping Jews in Odessa 

3) Back to the Bible

A fairly complete and annotated list of where Hesed appears in the Bible (from a Christian source) can be found at

Some examples of acts of Hesed between human beings, including some that support the idea that, for humans, it has a ring of quid-pro-quo, thereby making less pure than the divine model:

a) In Genesis 40 the Pharaoh's Cupbearer and Baker find themselves in prison with Joseph. They dream puzzling dreams, but Joseph interprets them. After interpreting the dream of the Cupbearer he tells him, "...When all goes well with you, remember me and show me Hesed; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison." (Gen 40:14).

b) In Joshua 2:12, after Rahab has given aid to the spies, she makes a request of them: "Now then, please swear to me by Yahweh that you will show Hesed to my family, because I have shown hesed to you. Give me a sure sign..."

c) A fascinating variation occurs in Psalm 141:5: "Let a righteous man strike me - it is Hesed; let him rebuke me - it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it."  Punishment from the righteous is recognized as an act of Hesed.

We find many places where Hesed goes hand in hand with Emet (truth).  They are a "hendiadys," a poetic technique where two words together express a single idea, something like "faithful love."  Hesed often joins forces with Emunah (faithfulness) and Rahamim (womb-like, maternal compassion). These double expressions typically connote Hesed from God, as they do in our portion.  When the Hesed comes from God, it acquires a degree of permanence that no human relationship can sustain. 

It's refreshing and noteworthy that this Christian Web site portrays the "Old Testament" as a chronicle of kindness, God-like kindness, rather than the stereotypical "Old Testament" litany of bloodshed and punishment.  It's nice to see this "OT is violent" theory dispelled elsewhere too, such as at expressing the "spontaneous, unforced energy in oneself, that is called Hesed, apprehends the God-like in oneself....In the world of Hesed is truly in his element; he acts spontaneously and naturally, and "walks in the ways of God" by acting of his own accord, of his own free will and unforced consciousness.  

All this talk about Hesed in the Bible, and I haven't even mentioned Ruth!  I don't have to  -- check out this Presbyterian sermon at, entitled "The Harvest of Hesed."

Now before I tell you word's meaning
I have to let you in on a secret
No English word or words
Can even come close to what it means...

Think about it
Think about all the instances of
Mercy, tender mercy, kindness,loyalty
Loving-kindness, and steadfast love
In the Bible
Now you know the secret
All those occurrences were one word
Hesed ...

Hesed is that quality of relationship
Between people in commitment
Between people who have a covenant
With each other
It is used especially in respect
To how a person in a superior position
Relates to a person in an inferior position.

In other words, Hesed is kindness
When you don't have to be kind
Mercy when it is not demanded
Love which is not only unrequited
But which remains unbroken

A less lyrical sermon on Hesed can be found at, but it does contain this nice bit of wisdom: "Hesed serves as a window that allows us to look into the very heart of God to see the kind of God we serve."

4)  Rabbinic Wisdom, Kabbalah, and Hesed

More insight, from Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, (The Beginning of Desire) "The paradox is Hesed is that it is gratuitous, free of necessity. It is given at God's will, so that ...[one] cannot demand it as a right. But without it, everything fails."

At, you'll find some Talmudic wisdom, including the insight that the Torah both begins (God clothes Adam and Eve) and ends (God buries Moses) with acts of divine Hesed.

is also a key Kabbalistic concept, as it is one of the divine emanations (Sefirot).  Go to and you'll see how it can be proven mathematically (through the Kabbalistic tool known as Gematria), that "There is no Torah without Hesed."  Also enjoy the relaxing music there, before venturing next to

5) Applied Hesed

It remains for us to put these lessons into practice.  One chiropractor literally did just that, echoing the thoughts of Abraham Joshua Heschel in this beautiful discourse on incorporating the Hesed model into the doctor-patient relationship: It's required reading for all health and human service professionals.

The secular usage of Hesed describes the relationship of a superior with responsibility to someone else (the recipient). This act of Hesed fulfills a need for the recipient, which is something they cannot do for themselves. It appears the technical actions in the delivery of health care can fall into this type of relationship. The superior person is the physician with the knowledge and skill to help the needy recipient.

Another usage of Hesed, which is similar to the secular usage, is also found in the biblical tradition. Hesed is never a special favor, but always a provision for an essential need, and an action performed by a stronger party for a weaker party. This description is what we should consider. As practitioners we are not doing patients favors when we perform an essential act for their good and for society in general. In some cases chiropractic care is not an option for the patient; it is the only service that will bring relief. By this fact, chiropractic health care providers can develop a deeper appreciation of our necessary role to serve the common good.

Another biblical meaning of Hesed is divine conduct. We can look to this meaning to see how we should perform our actions. God's Hesed is offered by enduring love, kindness and mercy to His people. Since we are more than just technical professionals, we need to develop a covenant relationship with the patient that has a true spiritual and human approach as its foundation. No longer can we say that we have a physician-patient relationship, if we are only relating in the contract model. We need to be whole ourselves. We are, as humans, more than our skills. We are multidimensional: physical, spiritual and mental. We need to develop a physician-Hesed-patient relationship.

In one of the messages released by Pope John Paul II this March, he called for a concept of health to include attention to the patient's spiritual state. He stated, "Health includes the well-being of the whole person -- his physical, psychic and spiritual state. It also includes the circumstances of his life. The concept of health cannot be restricted to the absence of disease. Any act of assistance to a sick man should be recognized as a form of health-care work, and also as an act of charity -- ultimately, a religious act. And health-care personnel should recognize that their goal is not only to offer [treatment], but to help restore and strengthen the entire person, including his interior life, his taste for life, his joy and love and communion."

With this statement as a guide, we can see that our acts are transformed from a technical action to one of Hesed. One that is offered in love and charity, with faith as a response having as our center a moral foundation rooted in holism.

That, in the end, is the true meaning of Hesed:  We can never achieve true Godly love, but we can come closest to it when we cease to treat other human beings as objects.  The more we see the Other as Thou, rather than It, the more we realize the promise of Hesed.  Martin Buber would be proud. 

I conclude with an anecdote appropriate to the season and this week's special maftir of Parah, which reminds us to purify ourselves for the upcoming Passover holiday.  Here is how spiritual purification is attained, according to Jewish Heritage Magazine, in two stories found at

Supervising the Matzah Baking

Rabbi Israel Lipkin Salanter was most meticulous in the baking of matzot (unleavened bread) for Passover. To make certain that everything was done according to the strictest interpretation of Jewish Law, he personally undertook to supervise the baking.
One year he was bedridden and unable to go to the bakery. He instructed two pupils to go in his stead. As the pupils were about to depart for their assigned task, they asked their teacher: "Is there anything special that we should watch?"
"Yes," the rabbi replied, "See that the old woman who does the mixing is paid sufficiently. She is a poor widow."

Milk at the Seder

A local Jew came to Rabbi Akiva Eger of Posen on the eve of Passover. "Rabbi, I've a ritual question to ask you," he said: "Is it permissible to use four cups of milk at the seder instead of four cups of wine?"
"Why would you want to substitute milk for wine? Are you, God forbid, ill?"
"No, rabbi I am well but I can't afford to buy wine."
The discerning rabbi then said: "I'm sorry. It is forbidden to use a substitute for wine." Reaching into his pocket, he continued, "Take these twenty rubles and purchase wine."
After the Jew had left, the rabbi's wife angrily chided her husband:
"Why did you give him twenty rubles for wine? Two or three would have been sufficient."
"Don't be angry," the rabbi answered. "The fact that this poor man was prepared to drink milk at the seder is evidence that he also did not have money to buy meat and perhaps not even fish and matzot. With twenty rubles he will be able to observe the seder properly."

Shabbat Shalom

Answer to the Quickie Quiz: Because the special maftir on Shabbat Parah is all about a "Holy Cow."

This Shabbat-O-Gram goes out weekly to hundreds of  Beth El congregants and others.  Feel free to forward it to your friends, and if you know of anyone who might wish to be included, please have them e-mail me at  To be taken off this e-mail list, simply click on "reply" and write "please unsubscribe" in the message box.

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