The real compassion

In this week’s Torah portion dying Jacob asks Joseph to perform an act of  חֶ֣סֶד וֶאֱמֶ֔ת to him. Since Jacob does not want to be buried in Egypt, he asks Joseph to ensure that his remains will be taken back to his native land and buried next to his ancestors.

One of the Jewish protagonists of the novel that I am working on now experiences the deep feeling of guilt since due to the Cold War he is not able to bring the body of his father, killed in the Soviet Union, back to the USA where his ancestors are buried. I think the desire to be next to one’s family is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. In the current situation when sometimes we have been separated from our loved ones this message of Vayechi is even more poignant.

Usually, the chesed ve’emet is interpreted as real compassion, the knowing and expecting no reward care for the dead body and arrangement of the funeral. However, Chuzkuni enlarges the boundaries of this expression, commenting as follows, “Wherever we find the expression חסד ואמת, it refers to giving someone more than he is entitled to expect, or asking him to do something beyond what he is entitled to demand.” Even on his deathbed, Jacob is demonstrating the character of the truly righteous person by using an expression of deep humility even when speaking to his son.


About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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