INSIGHT

5769 - #05

CHEIN

            

            

Our powerful introduction to Queen Esther is punctuated by the description in Esther 2:15 that she was noseit chein b’einei kol ro’e’ha, that she elicited chein from all who saw her. Coupled with other such applications of the word chein, as, for example, in Yirmiyahu 31:1, the term seems to clearly be identifying a most positive attribute in the person or group being described. Esther had chein, she elicited this feeling of chein from others, and this, it would seem, reflected a positive aspect of her character. Similarly, the verse in Yirmiyahu would seem to be praising the generation that left Egypt declaring that this generation’s eliciting of chein established the unique bonding of God with Israel. And does Mishlei 3:4 not direct us, in a manner similar to Esther, to elicit chein in both the eyes of God and human beings? This, in fact, was the very praise of Noach -- and the very reason, it would seem, that he was saved from the Flood -- that he found chein in the eyes of God.2 It would seem that we should strive to be people who elicit chein – yet what exactly is this attribute for which we should strive?

            The actual problem in defining the term originates with a challenge to its very positive nature.  T.B. Sanhedrin 108a derives from this very verse that Noach found chein in the eyes of God, that it was actually originally decreed that Noach should also perish in the Flood. Torah Temima, Bereishit 6:8, note 11 explains that chein is connected to the word chanun, merciful, compassionate, and that the declaration that Noach elicited chein is a statement that Noach really did not, through his own righteousness or through proper judgment, deserve to be saved; rather he was saved through an act of mercy from God.3 Eliciting chein would seem, thus, to have somewhat of a negative connotation; that it is describing someone that really does not meet the highest standards of righteousness but who, nonetheless, elicits God’s compassion. Seen this way, it, furthermore, would seem to be a term that actually describes, to a larger extent, the positive nature of the one with the active feeling who is applying the mercy rather than the one who is eliciting the mercy. That Noach elicited mercy would seem to be more of a statement about God than a statement about Noach, except for the fact that Noach needed God’s mercy. Should this also be the way that we understand Esther and/or the generation of the desert? If Mishlei is informing us that we should be individuals who elicit chein from others, it must be that being someone who can elicit this feeling in others must represent a good character trait. But to elicit such a response, to elicit a feeling of mercy, must also imply a weakness in that one has to rely on the mercy of others and must also be deemed not deserving on one’s own.

            Of course, there are times when any one of us finds ourselves in a position that demands the assistance of others. There is, no doubt, a value in the ability to relate and work with others but is that what is meant by the term chein? It would seem that, according to the Torah Temima, the term extends beyond the ability to connect with others but touches upon the ability to gain another’s compassion. Yet, was this the case with Esther? In a certain way, it would seem so. A review of the text would seem to imply that Esther must have stood out amongst the many other girls who were striving to become the new queen. The desire for the people of the court to assist Esther could possibly be explained as emerging from an emotion of compassion for this young girl who did not even know how to properly prepare for her audience with the king. Yet would that be the true description? Esther did not wish anything; her lack of preparation was not a reflection of weakness. Most significantly, the chein she elicited could also not be described as compassion in the sense that people felt bad for her. T.B. Megilla 13a states that everyone saw her as a member of their nation; everyone wanted to connect with her. This was not compassion.

            Torah Temima, Esther 2:15 recognizes the apparent contradiction between the presentation of chein in regard to Noach and this presentation of Esther. While in regard to Noach, it would seem that he was saved even though he did not deserve it, in the case of Esther, it would seem that it was quite understandable why she should be chosen. He argues that the chein was in regard to the fact that all thought that she was one of them even though it was obviously impossible for her to be a member of every nation. It is chein because it is not necessarily truthful. To understand the words of the Torah Temima, it would seem that chein existed because each person was willing to live with an acceptance that Esther was a member of each one’s nation, a clear impossibility. Chein exists at the expense of truth.5 Noach should not have been saved; in that he elicited chein, he was. Esther should not have been seen as a member of each person’s distinct nation; in that she elicited chein, she was. Chein changed the truth – but then why is chein good? Why should we elicit chein in the eyes of both God and human beings?

            Truth can oftentimes be constricting. Sometimes we have to dream. Sometimes we have
to see beyond the parameters of what is and project a possibility even though that possibility is
still not existent and not real. The word may be potential. The emotion may be something that is
not able to be enunciated but reflects a belief that there is something within a person that, while
not clearly manifested in the moment, can burst forth and distinguish this person in the future. It
may be in a solitary action today we see something that highlights an attribute of a person that today may not be dominant but may be reflecting what this person can be. There was something
in Noach that elicited God’s compassion, which informed God that He could begin again with Noach, even though the actual technical facts did not support such an argument in justice. That spark, that is chein. It is the attribute within a human being that shines forth and informs the other that even though the facts do not necessarily support the conclusion, there is something within this human being that still demands our attention, our positive response. We must still be wary for this assumption can still yield falseness, yet, we must also develop ourselves to also elicit chein, to elicit in others a view of our potential and what may be. Only thereby can we grow.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail

Footnotes

1 I have deliberately chosen not to translate the Hebrew word chein – although it is generally translated as favour, grace or charm – as the very objective of this Insight is to determine what I believe is the unique meaning embedded in this Hebrew term.

2 Bereishit 6:8.   

3 The Torah Temima then continues that his analysis must be seen as solely according to the one who held that Noach was only considered a tzaddik in his time but could not be considered as such if we applied a more objective yardstick. See, further, Rashi, Bereishit 6:9.  

4 Esther, as we know, did not reveal her national identity which created the opportunity for everyone to see her as
a member of their nation.

5 The words of Proverbs 31:30 take on added significance.

(c) Nishma, 2008


 


 


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