Hesed or kindness is one of the major lessons the Passover Seder tries to reinforce all throughout the Haggadah. For your Seder, let me share from the Haggadah The Night That Unites commentary from the beginning, middle, and end of the Seder which emphasizes the value of hesed in our lives. Feel free to use these commentaries as conversation starters at your Seder.
“This is the bread of affliction…Let all who are hungry come and eat…”
The Seder begins with an invitation to those in need to join us in our homes for the Seder. This is an act of kindness and tzedakah.
Rav Kook taught that we begin the Seder this way because the moment we were freed from slavery our true essence could emerge. We are a people of loving-kindness. Our forefather Abraham instilled this message within our Jewish consciousness (Abraham’s tent had a door in each of the four directions according to the Midrash, so that he could welcome in people into his home no matter in what the direction they were traveling-Rabbi Greene), and so at the Seder, as soon as we enact the story of our liberation, we engage in the act most characteristic of us as a people: feeding the hungry. (page 68)
“Therefore we are required to thank, praise, glorify…”
Rabbi Soloveitchik taught that we have an obligation to respond appropriately to our good fortune. There are times in all lives when we are faced with the painful question of how respond to suffering. In a fresh approach, and the very reverse of times when we face suffering, the Rav suggested that a parallel question needs to be asked when we experience blessing and goodness in life. Why do I deserve this good?
The Rav teaches:
God’s acts of hesed, “kindness,” Judaism declares, are not granted to man as a free gift. Rather they impose obligations, they exact ethic and halakhic demands upon their beneficiary. The bestowal of good is always to be viewed as a conditional gift-a gift that must be returned-or a temporary gift.
When God endows a person with wealth, influence, and honor, the recipient must know how to use these precious gifts, how to transform them into fruitful, creative forces, how to share his or her joy and prominence with the people around, how to take the divine hesed that flows toward them from its infinite Godly source and use it to perform deeds of loving-kindness. (page174)
“I was a youth and also have aged, and I have not seen a righteous man forsaken and his children begging for bread.”
Rabbi Soloveitchik taught the following explanation in clarifying this challenging verse in Grace after Meals:
The Standard translation of this verse (Psalm 37:5) is “was a youth and also have aged, and I have not seen a righteous man forsaken and his children begging for bread.”
The Rav offered a new meaning to the verse. The verb, ra’iti, “seen,” should be translated in the way in which it appears in the Book of Esther. Esther pleads on behalf of the Jewish people saying, “For how can I watch, ra’iti, the evil that shall come unto my people? Or how can I watch, ra’iti, the destruction of my kindred?” (Esther 8:6)
The verb ra’iti means “stand as a passive witness to.” This verse in Grace after Meals, should be understood as, “When the righteous were forsaken or his children forced to search for bread, I never merely stood and watched.”
This verse can be interpreted as a warning against being a mere bystander while other people suffer.
As we conclude saying the Grace after Meals, we are called upon to engage in providing for those who are in need. We begin the Grace after Meals speaking of God’s goodness in feeding the hungry, and we conclude with the injunction to do likewise. (page 220)
Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the greatest 20th century American Jewish theologians and he taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York until his untimely death in 1972, He once wrote: “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
We should ask two more questions on top of the famous four. Who are the hesed masters I admire as role models in my life? In what ways can I use the blessings and gifts that I have received to enhance the world around me? If you answer those questions correctly, it was not for naught that we were slaves in Egypt.