“Human existence by its nature cries out for chesed, loving-kindness. We need to receive it and give it if life in this dangerous world is to survive.”
In this wide-ranging and challenging sermon of January 10, 1965, Rabbi Olan brings together Biblical history, the history of the twentieth century, and the moment of the writing of this sermon (which is now “history” to us). He also gives us insight into the evolution of his own ideas about Good Will.
He contrasts the Hebrew word love (ahavah) with the word loving-kindness (chesed). In the Ten Commandments, we are enjoined to “love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your might,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” These are indeed lofty ideals. The prophets and sages of the Biblical faith, however, “realized that the realistic conditions of life call for something less than pure love.” This was chesed, loving-kindness, or good will. Rabbi Olan calls it “love in action.” It reminds us of the many times in his sermons that he calls us to action to help repair the world (tikkun olam).
There are many thought-provoking examples of situations in which good will or loving-kindness can help us to combat inequality, prejudice, and mutual misunderstanding. As regards the last of these three, he says, “The quality of loving-kindness is meaningful especially when men honestly differ about God, politics, economics, and roads to world peace.” As so often happens, he seems to be talking directly to us today.
*Written by Frances M. Olan.*