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The World is Built in Chesed...
Law of Love

Gemilut Chasadim

Further thoughts on Parashat Terumah

by John J. Parsons

The Hebrew word "terumah" (תְּרוּמָה) means "a gift" which the Israelites were asked to give for the building of the Tabernacle (i.e., the Mishkan, or the symbolic presence of God revealed at Sinai).  The gifts needed for "building a dwelling place" were to be given out of love, not from a grim sense of duty...

The Hebrew phrase gemilut chasidim (גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים) means "the bestowal of kindnesses," or the practice of chesed (i.e., love). Such benevolence is regarded as greater than tzedakah (doing the right thing out of a sense of duty) because love anticipates the needs of others and acts from a sense of compassion. As an old Jewish proverb states: "Tzedakah awaits the cry of distress; benevolence anticipates the cry of distress." The Scriptures declare, "The world is built in chesed (חֶסֶד)" (Psalm 89:3[h]).

A maxim in the Mishnah (c. 220 AD) states that the practice of benevolence is an integral part of spiritual life:


Shimon ha-Tzaddik hayah misyarei kheneset ha-gedolah. Hu omer:
al sheloshah devarim ha'olam omed: al ha-Torah
v'al ha'avodah v'al gemilut chasadim.

Simon the Righteous was from the remnant of the Great Assembly. He used to say:
'On three things the world stands: On the Torah, on service to God (avodah),
and on acts of lovingkindness (gemilut chasadim).' Avot 1:2

According to Jewish tradition, just as a chair requires at least three legs to function, so we must engage in the study of Scripture, serve the LORD "with all our hearts," and truly love another. Please notice that each of these "pillars" may be found in the (earlier) writings of the New Testament. For example, we are called to study the Scriptures (Acts 17:11, 2 Tim. 2:15); we are called to serve and love God (Matt. 4:10, 6:24, 1 Thess. 1:9, 2 Tim 1:3), and we are called to love one another (John 13:34-35, John 15:17, Rom. 12:10, 13:8, etc.). Indeed the Torah of Messiah (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) is the path of sacrificial love and gemilut chasidim (Rom. 13:8-10, Gal. 5:14, 6:2).

A midrash says that everyone has two angels. One angel collects our good deeds, while the other collects our sins. Once a man who was known for acts of benevolence stood before a judge who would decide whether he would go to heaven or go to hell. The judge offered him a unique privilege, however. He told the man he could first visit both heaven and hell and then choose between them. A chariot of fire then appeared and took the man off to a remote castle, floating upon a cloud. There he saw a great hall, filled with many tables. On each table were all sorts of delectable foods - the greatest feast imaginable.  The man then heard the sound of sad chanting as many people entered the hall. The people came to the tables but could not eat, even though they were all emaciated and very hungry. On each person's left hand was tied a giant fork, and on their right was tied a giant spoon. They could not bend their elbows to bring any food to their mouths. An angel then said to the man "This is hell. Now go visit heaven."

The chariot of fire then took him to another castle floating upon a cloud. It looked just like the first. The great hall was also filled with many tables upon which was set all sorts of delectable foods.  The man then heard the sound of happy chanting as many people entered the hall. The people came to the tables but they did not look emaciated. On each person's left hand was tied a giant fork, and on their right was tied a giant spoon. They could not bend their elbows to bring any food to their mouths. As the man watched, however, the people began to feed one another. Each person picked up food and carried it to his neighbor's mouth. The angel then said, "This is heaven. The people make it heaven since they have found a way to do gemilut chasidim."

The man then was brought before the judge again. "Have you decided to go to heaven or to hell?" The man answered, "I choose hell. I will teach them the secret of creating heaven. This will be my last good deed."

Practicing compassion is the underlying motivation for adherence to all of God's commandments, for without the inner motivation of love, there is little point to anything else the Torah might say. After all, the two great commandments of Scripture center on loving God and loving others as ourselves (see Deut. 6:4-6; Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:29-31). The underlying problem, however, is not understanding our obligation to love, but rather finding the will to truly do so.... If we have trouble keeping the first and greatest commandment, we need to begin there and seek Divine Help...

Of course we are not saved by means of "works of righteousness that we have done" (Titus 3:5), but we instead trust (exclusively) in the righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ) given on our behalf. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). This is an "imputed" form of righteousness that settles the question of our identity before the Father.  Nonetheless those who are God's children will evidence their "new nature" in the choices of their lives. "If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness (πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην) has been born of him" (1 John 2:29). "Doing" and "being" are united in the truth...There is no "being" righteous apart from the "doing" acts of righteousness. As Yeshua said, "You shall know them by their fruits..."

Traditional Judaism is fundamentally a form of meritocracy that is based on the efforts of the human will to obey God (i.e., by performing mitzvot). Performing righteous deeds produces divine merit within the soul, whereas neglecting the commandments leads to culpability and judgment.... Those who follow Yeshua, however, are given the Holy Spirit to enable them to walk according to a "higher law" - called the law of the Spirit of Life (תוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים) that sets them free from the law of sin and death (i.e., that principle that vainly attempts to justify the soul through its own inner merit). In both cases the end is the same (i.e., the practice of righteousness and acts of gemilut chasidim), though the motive and the means are entirely different.  The Cross of Yeshua is the dividing point. The ego must die along with its agenda (John 12:24; Luke 9:23). We perform acts of righteousness and walk in love because God graciously enables us to do so as the result of our new nature in Messiah. There is an infinite and everlasting difference between working from a place of God's love and acceptance and working for it...

May God grant you bittachon (complete trust) in His unfailing love as revealed in Yeshua our Messiah.... Amen.


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