Chesed: The Mercy

The first three of the ten sephirot are the attributes of intellect, while chesed is the first sephira of the attribute of action. In the cabalistic tree of life, his position is under Chokhmah, opposite Gevurah and above Netzach, and he is assigned four paths: chokhmah, gevurah, tiphereth and netzach.

The Bahir states: “What is the fourth (utterance): The fourth is the justice of GOD, His mercy and kindness to the whole world. This is the right hand of GOD”. Chesed manifests the absolute, unlimited benevolence and goodness of GOD.

In Hebrew the word “chesed” is used to indicate kindness or love between people, the pious devotion of people to GOD. But if one speaks about GOD this word also indicates the love or mercy of GOD towards humanity, and is used very frequently in the Psalms in this sense, where it is traditionally translated as “love”.

In Jewish theology it is also used for the love of GOD for the children of Israel, and in Jewish ethics it is used for love or charity among people. In the latter sense, “charity” is considered a virtue in its own right, and also for its contribution to tikkun olam (to repair the world). It is also considered the foundation of many religious commandments practiced by traditional Jews, especially the interpersonal commandments.
The root chasad has a primary meaning of “burning, burning desire”, used both in the sense of “good, kind” and for antiphrases “shame, contempt”. The noun chesed inherits both senses, on the one hand “zeal, love, kindness towards someone” and on the other “zeal, ardor against someone; envy, reproach”. In its positive sense it is used to indicate mutual benevolence, mercy or pity between people, devotional piety of people towards GOD, as well as grace, favor or mercy of GOD towards people.
It is found 248 times in the Jewish Bible. In most cases (149 times), the translation of King James’ Bible into English is “mercy”, to follow the LXX translation to the letter. In the text there are only two cases of the noun in a negative sense, translated as “reproach” in Proverbs 14, 34 and “wicked thing” in Leviticus 20, 17.

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