Emeth and Hesed

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I am by no means a biblical scholar, nor a professional student of Hebrew, nor even one who knows very much about Hebrew. But these two words are so important to any understanding of God and most particularly any understanding of God's relationship with His people Israel. By extension, they are "qualities" or attributes of God, and of God in His simplicity who has no separate qualities or attributes that are not part of the wholeness of God.

Emeth is faithfulness. But very often it seems much stronger than what we might call faithfulness. Interestingly enough, in many of the stories of the Golem, it is with word "Emeth" which animates the man-of-clay and he is laid to rest by erasing the first letter (which I'm told is a aleph) so that what is left is the Hebrew word for death. Thus faithfulness and death are close and emeth might be considered faithfulness unto death. Unto our deaths, individually, and unto His own death on the Cross. This is the end of emeth, the faithfulness that is stamped on all the pages of history--the story of God's complete surrender to us, complete faithfulness to us. Emeth, is His promise to be with us always unto the end of time. Emeth is His promise to lift us up from our graves and restore us to our places at God's table.

Hesed is also variously translated. The mildest translation I have seen is "mercy." Mercy seems too light a meaning for such a loaded word. I have heard some say that hesed is "a wrenching of the bowels," a feeling so deep it tears up the guts, as it were. Hesed is sometimes translated as loving-kindness, which goes a long way toward making it sound namby-pamby; but hesed is the love that carves us on the palm of His hand, sets us as the apple of His eye, is announced in the "It is finished" from the cross and then rushes out through the world to causes cataclysmic earthquakes which result in the sundering of the temple veil, the separation of humankind from the all-loving God. Hesed is the font of love and the commandment to love and the fulfillment of love from within the deepest reaches of God. Hesed is touching God's heart.

Emeth and Hesed, the words that describe God's covenantal relationship with the People of Israel, and by extension to all of us. Faithfulness that cannot fail, and love that reaches into death and pulls out life. These are the qualities of God's attention to each one of us. Emeth and hesed--faithfulness and loving kindness from the depth of being. How can we return anything less?

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Dear Steven,

You seem to have an excellent grasp of the Hebrew! I love that the golem was animated/destroyed by emet, particularly when I consider that emet, which encompasses faithfulness, is often translated "truth". I know they mean the same thing, but for some reason I don't see it easily.

Although it is not very poetic, I enjoyed reading an explanation of hesed that defined it as "covenant loyalty". Acts of hesed are what make up the covenant, and that really is gut-wrenching! That God would make a covenant with us! And keep it!!

One of the things I really like in St. Cyril of Jerusalem is in one of the first of his Catechetical Lectures, when he points out that one of God's names is Faithful, and that we are also called the Faithful. God calls us and gives us one of His own names.

And this is what we are -- emeth. Scary.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 3, 2006 1:43 AM.

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