What is Chesed?

The new PJ Library book, Be Kind: It’s a Mitzvah is all about finding ways to make the world a better place. The Hebrew word mitzvah literally means “commandment,” but it’s also understood by many to mean “a good deed.” Jewish tradition says that there are exactly 613 mitzvot (plural for mitzvah) in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), and there are countless ways to perform them, just as there are countless ways to be kind

In the Jewish tradition, kindness is expressed with the Hebrew word chesed (beginning with a “ch” sound, as heard in the name “Bach,” and rhyming with “bless-ed”). Like many Hebrew words, chesed does not translate precisely into English. The word means more than simply “kindness.” The contemporary Jewish scholar and teacher Avivah Zornberg has said chesed is “not just loving-kindness as it’s usually translated, but is also courage and imagination.”

At the back of the book Be Kind, you will find a list of 16 different Jewish values. Many of these fall under the umbrella of gemilut chasadim, which is Hebrew for “acts of loving-kindess.”

Look through the book and see if you can figure out values that correspond to each activity. Some of the activities are examples of more than one value!

Here are a few to get you started 

child's hands setting a butterfly free

  • You practice bal tashchit (preserving the environment) when you...participate in a community clean-up day, put out a rain bucket to collect rainwater, or empty a glass of water into a potted plant.
  • You practice bikhur cholim (visiting the sick) when you...give a jar of chicken soup to a neighbor. 
  • You practice hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) when you...make room for the new kid in the cafeteria or make a welcome card for a new family in your neighborhood.
  • You practice tza’ar ba’alei chayim (taking care of animals) when you...make a pinecone feeder, put water out for dogs on a hot day, or coax a spider outdoors. 

You get the idea! There’s no end to the ways we can put Jewish values into practice. 


Looking for other chesed-related resources?

Printable Lunchbox Notes to Spread Kindness

Printable Mitzvah-a-Day Chart

Jewish Children’s Books about Kindness

Kindness Card Games & Activities