Monday, April 13, 2015

Of Teaching and Chesed

About a month ago, I posted a question on this blog: "Is teaching a class an act of chesed (generosity)?" I received some insightful emails, as well as good comments on the post; thank you.

As I said on that post, teaching a class just doesn't feel like chesed. I'd like to unpack that here.

I can see three definitions of Chesed:
1) Filling the need of a recipient;
2) Sacrificing personal resources for a recipient;
3) Connecting with a recipient.

In truth, I believe that teaching a class does qualify as Chesed, within all three definitions. A good teacher:
(1) provides for the educational needs of the students;
(2) expends real effort and time in planning how best to convey Torah to the students; and
(3) connects and builds relationships with the students.

So why doesn't it feel like chesed? A few reasons, I think, all tied to the different definitions of chesed I mentioned above:
1) Filling a need - Rabbis need to advertise and recruit people to shiurim; if this were filling a need, would we need to work so hard to persuade people to take advantage? Further, however well-intentioned, a Rabbi may misunderstand or misstate his Torah. A shiur may be wrong without the teacher realizing it, but the benefits of a hospital visit, counseling, a relationship are often visible.

2) Sacrificing personal resources – If I am paid to teach classes, then whatever I do is a fulfillment of that job. It is equally true that a shul rabbi is paid for rabbinic chesed, but when a rabbi sacrifices to go above and beyond in chesed – as happens regularly – it feels more like an uncompensated "extra" than when I learn with a chavruta or give a shiur despite being exhausted.

3) Connecting with others - One can teach Torah without investing emotionally; I believe that such teaching is less successful, but it can be done. On the other hand, the relationship aspect of chesed requires at least sympathy, if not empathy.

I don't see a moral to this story; it may just be something I find interesting. But then again, this is a blog, so I suppose that's okay.


  1. I can see where your coming from with most of this, but I disagree where you say, "A shiur may be wrong without the teacher realizing it, but the benefits of a hospital visit, counseling, a relationship are often visible." I think it is entirely possible for other forms of chessed to go wrong too: the rabbi (or anyone else) who says the wrong thing to an ill person or someone in distress, who gives bad advice and so on. A person can certainly make matters worse with the best of intentions.

  2. Hi Daniel,

    I agree with you; that was why I said "often"...

  3. There are two aspects:
    1. Conscientiously doing all the job requirements a teacher is paid for, and
    2. Going above and beyond
    Is there a chesed aspect to both 1 and 2 or only to 2?

    1. To my mind, compensation does not detract from the chesed element, but it makes it feel less so - as in my Item 2 in the post.