Community Blog “Chesed” or “Kindness”: Why Using Hebrew Terms Matters

By Renee Rudnick

I was teaching Session 6 of Parenting Through a Jewish Lens (PTJL) at Temple Beth Avodah, and the topic was “Chesed — Parenting for Kindness.”  In the first part of class we discussed the core Jewish values of Chesed/kindness, Tzedakah, and Tikkun Olam.  Just about everyone was familiar with the terms Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam.  However, as with so many people, these parents tended to equate Tzedakah with “charity” whereas in Judaism we are actually commanded to do Tzedakah as a way to bring equanimity and justice to the world; it’s not supposed to be a choice, but rather a “must do”.  That, in itself, is a very interesting teaching for our children.  Just about everyone also understood the concept of Tikkun Olam/ Repairing the World which is done through Tzedakah and through Gemilut Chasidim/Acts of Loving Kindness.

What was interesting to all of us, was that no one was familiar with the third term Chesed/Kindness, and yet we have all been taught to be kind and to do acts of kindness to others and likewise teach our children.  Yet none of these parents knew the Jewish term for this most basic and important Jewish value.  Some parents in the class were quite familiar with the song “Al Shlosha Devarim” which uses the phrase “Gemilut Chasidim”, but still hadn’t understood its meaning nor its connection to Chesed.

What’s my point here?  As parents working to fashion Jewish homes for our children, I believe strongly that we bring a richer, deeper sense of being Jewish and living Jewish when we use our Hebrew terminology when speaking to children about our values.  By using these words with our children, they can more deeply connect the Jewish people and tradition.  It could be a wonderful dinner table conversation to talk about Chesed moments adults and children observed or experienced during the day, or even Chesed opportunities that we missed doing.  What a lovely way to end the day recalling Shehecheyanu moments; things parents and kids are grateful for or special moments that deserve to be acknowledge and appreciated.

Parents reported great satisfaction and culture shifts after tweaking their language and routines to add in Hebrew terms.  In striving to create rich Jewish homes for our children and ourselves, using Hebrew terminology can help instill Jewish values and create Jewish memories.

Learn more about Parenting Through a Jewish Lens

recommended posts

Jewish learning “Hebrew School for Adults”

Jewish learning Rejoicing in Others’ Joy

Exodus Still We Build