Edith Samuel, in her book, “Your Jewish Lexicon”, says that chesed is one of the “most high-frequency words” in the Jewish lexicon. Chesedחֶסֶד [remember in Hebrew the ‘ch’ is pronounced as in ‘Bach’] occurs 237 times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Strong’s #678) and is most often translated into English as the old fashioned word, ‘lovingkindness’, but also ‘mercy’ and ‘kindness’.
The best way to explain the concept of chesed is to look at someone who exhibited it to others. One of the greatest examples is found in today’s Torah portion when Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers. During his 20 years in Egypt, God had taught Joseph some powerful lessons, preparing him to be the preserver of his family ie, the Jewish people! During the same 20 years, Joseph’s brothers had been suffering with a very guilty conscience! In Genesis 42, the first time they meet Joseph (and of course they did not recognize him), he calls them spies, they reply, “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” (Gen. 42:21) Apparently they had an agreement among themselves never to tell the real truth about Joseph since they told Joseph in verse 13 that one brother “is not”. Joseph’s actions towards his brothers, before he reveals who he is, it not due to revenge, but he is trying to bring them to the point of repentance and freedom from their guilt. He realizes that while he was imprisoned in Egypt, they have been imprisoned inside of their guilty conscience. Finally when Joseph did reveal his identity, his brothers “could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.” (Genesis 45:3) Again, it was their guilty conscience that caused them to be “troubled at his presence”.
Because Joseph is full of chesed and forgiveness, he is the initiator in the entire event of restoration. Joseph immediately shares with his brothers the very powerful, life changing lesson that God had taught him. From man’s perspective, Joseph was sold into Egypt. Genesis 37:28 specifically states, “… they [his brothers] … sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.” However here in Genesis 45, Joseph is able to say, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.” (Gen. 45:5)God had taught Joseph one of the most important lessons of life – God is in control of every event and if we trust completely in Him, His unseen hand will work it out for our good. Joseph said that God SENThim into Egypt to preserve the very ones who had harmed him – his family. In order for Joseph to be able to preserve his family from the coming famine, God had to send this special trial into his life to mature him. The twenty years in Egypt was not an intellectual pursuit of God by Joseph. Joseph did not even have the Word of God! It had not been written yet. All Joseph had was God!! God taught Joseph to view life from His perspective, instead of man’s perspective which is very limited because we are finite. Therefore, Joseph learned that bad things are often good things in disguise. Now it was time for Joseph to teach this lesson to his family. When the brothers least deserved kindness from Joseph, he gave it. He forgave them and sought their good and wanted to preserve them from the famine. God deals the same way with us. When we least deserve it, God shows us lovingkindness and forgiveness – usually through other people. Do you recognize God’s chesed towards you in all situations? The next time something ‘bad’ happens, remember that it may turn out to be the best thing to ever happen if we will view it from God’s perspective!