Sermon: Love & Chesed, Yom Kippur 5777 – Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

Written by Writings & Sermons by others — 12 October 2016

All you need is love.

All you need is love?

It’s just not true. I wish it were!

Instead, we plead for something very different:

Aseh imanu tzedakah v’chesed, aseh imanu tzedakah v’chesed v’hosheyanu!

Avinu malkeynu! Our parent, our Ruler, treat us with righteousness and loving kindness and save us, liberate us.

Don’t be distracted by love! It’s just too unreliable, fickle and too easily replaced by distain, anger or hatred. It lacks the permanence that we need especially today, a day that highlights precariousness and the delicate, fragile, uncertain nature of the future.

Better than love, or in Hebrew, ahavah – is chesed – deeds of loving kindness. Rabbi Jonathan Magonet, past Principal of Leo Baeck College, translates chesed as “covenantal loving kindness” – not very catchy but accurate. In Torah, Chesed is always about the mutual covenant between God and Jews. Chesed is demanding.

When we open our doors as communities towards the future, we must build communities of chesed, not just of ahavah, of love.

That’s the reason that caring committees are often called chesed rather than ahavah. It recognises that care in communities is part of our “covenant of loving kindness” with God as well as with each other. Within a community this is both a demand of Judaism and also, a right of the community member. Alyth is brilliant at this and this year we’re celebrating 25 years of Lynette Synderland working at Alyth. She’s now the Director of Welfare and Life Cyle which means she’s responsible for ensuring that Alyth’s in meaningful contact with members throughout the joys and challenges of life. Chesed is her job description!

Chesed is so much better than ahavah because you have to act on it even if you don’t want to!

It’s obligation, mitzvah, that leads to chesed rather than choice which is love, ahavah.

If the bereavement or care committee member didn’t want to telephone someone who’s in pain because they didn’t feel like it, or the volunteer didn’t love the deceased or their family, we know that’s just not good enough!

Aseh imanu tzedakah v’chesed.

This comparison between ahavah and chesed is like “charity” and tzedakah. Charity’s good – but can be withdrawn according to whim. Love’s good but can with withdrawn according to whim.

Tzedakah, like chesed, is a fundamental obligation.

Tzedakah is obligatory – we may not want to give 5-10 percent of our income (in addition to our State taxes) but we know that as Jews, we’ve no choice. This is an embodiment of Jewish values. This is how we emulate, imitate and aspire to be like God.

As we open the door to the future in Neilah, I’m acutely aware that the future feels different. Something’s changed radically over the last few years and chesed has become much much more essential.

I’ve have seen this most clearly in RSY-Netzer, our youth movement in two connected ways.

The first is mental health, or ill health which has spiralled and reflects our national situation of an explosion in young people’s mental health issues (self harm, eating disorders, depression and anxiety).

Anxiety and anger are two sides of the same coin. I’ve never experienced young people and their parents expressing  anger and frustration in such an extreme, excessive manner and I’ve been involved in youth work since I was 13 and chaired the youth group at Alyth! That’s 40 years ago!

Whether because of social media or increased pressure for academic achievement, or financial worries, moderation, self-awareness and acceptance of occasional inconvenience or disappointment or seems to have been lost. I fear that people’s sense of self has been fractured, bruised, fragmented. I’m sure that the rise in mental health issues and the very short fuses many people seem to have are connected. Anxiety and anger are two sides of the same coin.

The rise in mental health issues is coupled by a cut in funding for adult social care by 37% since 2010; the number of people getting State funded help has plummeted by at least 25% since 2010 and more than a million people who have difficulties with the basic activities of daily living such as getting out of bed, washing and dressing now receive no formal or informal help at all. This is an increase of 100,000 in one year alone!

Chesed has to be the currency of communities – without a plunge in the exchange rate.

When we open the door to the future, we can create calm spaces to reconsider how we communicate, how we treat each other. We can reinforce our obligation, mitzvah, command to look after each other, even if we don’t want to or, in the heat of a moment forget that we must. With chesed. The blaming, angry, lashing out must stop, however anxious we may be and our children may be.

This year, 5777, our Akedah, our binding is to a covenant of care, honouring our elderly and those who are physically or mentally pressured or restricted at any age. A covenant of care for our future, addressing the needs of young people who are suffering from anxiety in a proportion that is unprecedented.

Now is the time for chesed, now is the time for something more than love. More than a feeling. Now is the time for action. Chesed.

Aseh imanu tzedakah v’chesed, aseh imanu tzedakah v’chesed v’hosheyanu

Avinu malkeynu, Our parent, our Ruler, treat us with righteousness and loving kindness, and liberate us.

G’mar chatimah tovah, shanah tovah.