FROM THE RABBI’S DESK – SHABBAT CHOL HAMOED PESACH:
It is traditional on Pesach and Succot to read the Torah portion dealing with the various Jewish holidays as enumerated and discussed in the parsha of Emor in the book of Vayikra, or Leviticus. What stands out demonstrably is the insistence of the Torah that in light of the offerings brought to the Temple, that the poor not be neglected. Celebrations may be in order, sacrifices are to be offered, but the poor must be assured they will have what to eat and survive.
Rashi, quoting Rav Avdimi in the name of Rabbi Yossi, states that the care the community gives the poor by ensuring them that they can glean crops from people’s fields is equivalent to the building of the Temple and the establishment of altars on which one can offer sacrifices. Perhaps the intent of Rashi’s quotation is to indicate that we are not simply a nation that practices its faith, we are a nation that is built on the foundation of Chesed, or acts of kindness, to any and to all.
On the first days of Pesach, we addressed the topic of Chesed as to how it interrelates and pervades all aspects of Torah observance. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, also known as the Chafetz Chaim, dedicates his book, Ahavat Chesed, to this concept, which serves to unify disparate elements within the Jewish community, groups that normally would have little contact with one another. It is Chesed that unites the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, and it is Chesed that provides a common address for all Jews. Chesed also manifests itself in the world around us through our support and assistance to all in need, regardless of faith, and it is the building block of the world.
Chesed is a direct challenge to those who espouse rugged individualism as seen in certain segments of American society, and is the direct opposite of objectivism, envisioned by the philosopher, Ayn Rand, which eschews this type of societal interaction. Our Haggadah begins with a call to Chesed with the recitation of Ha Lachma Anya, where all who are hungry are invited to participate in the Seder. Our faith revolves around the interplay of Chesed and other Mitvah performance modules. We may celebrate our holidays, but we do not neglect those who need us.