Chesed is the fourth sephirot on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, and is a Hebrew word commonly translated as “loving-kindness,” “kindness” or “love.” The first three of the ten sephirot, are the attributes of the intellect, while Chesed is the first sephira of the attribute of action. Its position is below Chokhmah, across from Gevurah and above Netzach. It is usually given four paths – to Chokhmah, Gevurah, Tiphereth, and Netzach (some Kabbalists place a path from Chesed to Binah as well.)
Chesed is central to Jewish ethics and Jewish theology and is a common term in the Bible for describing God’s love for humankind and God’s special relationship with the Children of Israel.
According to the Bahir, “What is the fourth (utterance): The fourth is the righteousness of God, His mercies and kindness with the entire world. This is the right hand of God.” Chesed manifests God’s absolute, unlimited benevolence and kindness.”
According to Wikipedia:
Chesed is valued by religious Jews of all denominations. It is considered a virtue on its own, and also for its contribution to tikkun olam (repairing the world). It is also considered the foundation of many religious commandments practiced by traditional Jews, especially interpersonal commandments. Chesed is the basis for a wide variety of Jewish communal institutions.
Chesed is also one of the ten Sephirot on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. It is given the association of kindness and love, and is the first of the emotive attributes of the sephirot.
In traditional musar literature (ethical literature), chesed is one of the primary virtues. The tannaic rabbi Simon the Just taught: “The world rests upon three things: Torah, service to God, and bestowing kindness” (Pirkei Avot 1:2). Chesed is here the core ethical virtue.
A statement by Rabbi Simlai in the Talmud claims that “The Torah begins with chesed and ends with chesed.” This may be understood to mean that “the entire Torah is characterized by chesed, i.e. it sets forth a vision of the ideal life whose goals are behavior characterized by mercy and compassion.” Alternatively, it may allude to the idea that the giving of the Torah itself is the quintessential act of chesed.
In Moses Cordovero’s kabbalistic treatise Tomer Devorah, the following are actions undertaken in imitation of the qualities of Chesed:
- love God so completely that one will never forsake His service for any reason
- provide a child with all the necessities of his sustenance and love the child
- circumcise a child
- visiting and healing the sick
- giving charity to the poor
- offering hospitality to strangers
- attending to the dead
- bringing a bride to the chuppah marriage ceremony
- making peace between a man and his fellow
A person who embodies “chesed” (חסד) is known as a “chasid” (hasid, חסיד), one who is faithful to the covenant and who goes “above and beyond that which is normally required”and a number of groups throughout Jewish history which focus on going “above and beyond” have called themselves chasidim. These groups include the Hasideans of the Second Temple period, the Maimonidean Hasidim of medieval Egypt and Palestine, the Chassidei Ashkenaz in medieval Europe, and the Hasidic movement which emerged in eighteenth century Eastern Europe.