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Naso: May We Be Gracious to One Another and Ourselves

06/13/2022 03:59:26 PM


Rabbi Ezray

Have you ever had someone in your life who truly saw you; someone who saw your essence, light, and who you are capable of becoming? Maybe that person also helped bring those things out in you that you did not know existed.

Keep that person in your mind. The quality they displayed is captured by the Hebrew word chen. It is often translated as “grace,” but the English word “grace” doesn’t fully capture it. Chen is the ability to see someone in terms of their full humanity and because that is how you see them; it allows pieces of them to emerge they might not have known were there. Chen can also mean to extend kindness even if it might not be deserved. It is a way to approach the world that transforms both yourself and those around you. In the blessing the Priests give in this morning’s Torah reading, they ask that God’s light shine on each Israelites and be gracious to him/her: v’chun’echa.  

What does it mean for God’s light to shine on you and be gracious? How might you walk in God’s footsteps and emulate that quality?

Sometimes a story is the best way to understand a concept. This story is from the Times of Israel by Rabbi Haviva Ner David about her mentor Rabbi Arie Strikovsky of blessed memory. Rabbi Arie was someone who lived life with chen, seeing the light in people, nurturing it, and helping to bring it out. Haviva Ner David wrote that she always knew she wanted to be a rabbi, but as an Orthodox woman, that door was closed to her, until she met Rabbi Arie. He saw her light, wisdom, and that she embodied who and what a rabbi should be. He defied his Orthodox colleagues and the world he lived in and ordained her. For him, chen drove him to listen to the inner voice of love and to see the Divine in every person he encountered.   

Describing Rabbi Arie’s, Haviva Ner David writes: “He believed in open doors. He taught with no agenda. He did not try to convince his students, most of whom were not Orthodox, to become Orthodox. He spread divine light in the container he experienced it, Torah, but left its application and interpretation to the person receiving it.” Chen transcends judgements, social groupings, peer pressure; it demands we see with heart.

Treating people with chen often requires courage. Rabbi Arie taught at a Friday morning Talmud class at an institution called Machanaim, a yeshiva for Russian immigrants. He was always willing to help those whose Jewish status was being challenged by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, conducting the weddings of Russian immigrants other Orthodox rabbis refused to officiate at and going to great lengths to help students having trouble with their conversions.

When someone treats you with chen, it changes your life and ripples in unexpected ways.

Yisa Adonai Panav Elecha Vichuneca; May God shine his Divine light on you and give you chen. When we say that blessing to our children on Friday nights, we remind ourselves to follow God’s example and see the light in our children waiting to emerge. We remind ourselves of our own light.

We have the power to unlock magic when they see others with chen. There are interesting examples in the Bible of someone who saw another with chen and it changed the arc of our world. The jailer saw Joseph’s chen and treated him in a way that helped him emerge from jail. People in the king’s harem saw Esther’s chen and it allowed her to be queen and ultimately save our people. Chen is a topic we need to talk about and learn about more.  

Chen comes to us, and then we spread it to others. Think of chen as an action that comes from seeing another in light of their divinity. Parker Palmer, who founded the Center for Courage and Renewal writes about when he felt lost in the darkness of depression, and how people acting with chen, taking responsibility to care because they saw his divine light hidden that by the darkness, and responded with love. Listen to his words: “I’ve done more than my share of falling down, getting up, and falling down again. The falling down is due to missteps and gravity. The getting up is due to grace [chen] by people to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude.”

Chen also impacts how we see ourselves. Rabbi Tzafi Levy writes that chen is embracing God’s love of our imperfect selves. Chen is something granted to us, not as a reward for our right actions, but whenever we are able to receive God’s love, even when we fear we don’t quite deserve it.

Are you living life with chen? Are you seeking to see the best in others and act based on that Divine Light? Are you cultivating that combination of gentleness, humility, generosity, and courage that embodies chen in how you view yourself and others? It means that we must push back against what is so prevalent in our world; harsh judgment, rush to categorize in ways that limit, seeing only the negative. Sadly, we live in a time when chen seems to be diminishing, replaced by hate, anger, suspicion, and leaping to negative assessment. The only response to this reality is to double down on chen in how we treat ourselves and others. As we affirm our worth, act with love, and share the love we receive, the impact ripples.

Chen must flow to us and from us. In the book Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, Miroslav Wolf writes: “We are not just the intended recipients of God’s [chen]; we are also channels. As channels, we exist not just to enjoy things but [also] to pass them on. Our purpose is twofold; to flourish, and to help others flourish. 

Think about this beautiful blessing: Ya’er Adonai Panav Eilecha Vi’chun’echa – May God shine Divine light on you and give you chen. My prayer is that you appreciate the Divine light within you and see the Divine Sparks in others. May those sparks spur you to act with courage. May people see the sparks in you, lifting you to places you could never imagine. May we approach every moment with chen so that chen flows through us to others. 

Ya’er Adonai Panav Eilecha Vi’chun’echa – May God shine Divine light on you and give you chen.

Fri, September 30 2022 5 Tishrei 5783