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Rabbi Arthur Segal’s love of people, humanity, and Judaism has him sharing with others “The Wisdom of the Ages” that has been passed on to him. His writings for modern Jews offer Spiritual, Ethical, and eco-Judaic lessons in plain English and with relevance to contemporary lifestyles. He is the author of countless articles, editorials, letters, and blog posts, and he has recently published two books:

The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew


A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud

You can learn more about these books at:
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Friday, July 3, 2015




I was asked today over lunch, by a rabbinic friend, to speak about Judaism and grace. The main Hebrew translation of chesed is grace. As I will attempt to show below the Talmud and TaNaK is drenched in the idea that God's grace is for everyone. God's grace is like sunlight. The sun just shines—on everyone, as the Talmud teaches. The effect of the sun shining has duality: sometimes it warms, sometimes it burns. And it shines on everything, what we perceive to be good and bad.   (Talmud Bavli Ta'anit 7a). The practice of living graciously depends on our mitzvot, and Jews are taught to use God's light to repair the world.

Although religious scholars  and many Jews claim that justice is the predominant concept on the Jewish path, a full study of our texts shows us that chesed, grace, is even more important with its emphasis on "God's unlimited, unconditional, unconditioned, and all-inclusive love for all creation."

So the Jewish conception of grace has to do with a Kabbalistic conception of God. God is infinitely beyond time, space, and everything. God occupies all, and all is God. If we cannot see God everywhere, then we truly cannot see God anywhere. As we have heard many times: God isn't a noun but a verb. Or we have heard the phrase: God isn't a being but a doing. And these lead us to the true bumper sticker of 'Don't be a human doing, but be a human being.' In other words, everything God does is for the good, as the beracha reads,  and when we humans add to this, with our egos, we are planning God, and our addition, is hence subtraction, as the Talmud teaches (Sanhedrin 29a).  So, what God does is called ''grace."  There is no need to win or achieve grace because it is freely given to all of us. But the catch is, we need to choose to accept it or reject it via our actions. The Talmud reads: "Even if 999 angels testify against humanity and only 1 speaks on their behalf, the Holy One, blessed be, inclines the scales in humanity's favor."(Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 61b).

By understanding and accepting the wonders God does for us second by second, as astonishing Divine grace , and living life with an abundant attitude of gratitude, as the main guiding rule of our lives, we will be able to appreciate everything, from the creation of the universe, to the beautiful color of sky or the sea or the trees, or the birds, to our first breath upon wakening.  Rabbi Ibn Pakudah discusses this in his 1000 year old 1000 page text entitled 'Duties of the Heart." we will be able to see the creation of the world, the covenant, forgiveness, and faith with fresh eyes. 

Hence for Jews, God's grace began for us before Adam and Eve were created and exists for us in abundance as long as we realize it, accept it, and act with appreciation.  And how is the best way to show appreciation to someone? Be kind to that person's child is the answer. By living our lives with chesed, grace, for all, we thank God, our Divine Parent, for the abundant grace, chesed, kindness,  given to us, shown to us, every second of our lives.

Grace is one of the attributes of God, signifying His loving-kindness and mercy, and particularly His compassion for the weak, the unfortunate, and the sinful. It is in contrast with the attribute of justice, inasmuch as grace is granted even to the undeserving. The most significant Scriptural passage is in Exodus 34:6: "The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." The relation of this attribute of grace to God's justice is not always clearly defined in the TaNaK. Righteousness, however, is taken to be so comprehensive that it includes all moral perfection, of which all virtues are a necessary corollary. Often grace and justice are used in parallel construction (Ps. 84: 15; 101: 1; 103: 6, 8). Jonah found it difficult to reconcile grace and righteousness ( Jonah 3:8-9; 4: 2, 11), and the Divine answer states that Divine grace is extended not only to the chosen people, but also to the heathen; it is conditioned, however, on sincere repentance. The Book of Jonah is particularly intended to teach divine grace in its universal aspect . However, the other books of the Bible are also replete with this idea, as Deuteronomy, where the existence of Divine grace is cited as a guaranty that God will keep His covenant with Israel (4: 31), and grace is promised as a result of obedience (13: 18-19).

The Prophets, while emphasizing God's judgment and righteousness, also proclaim His mercy. Isaiah repeatedly teaches that Divine grace will be granted to the repentant (60:  7), God's loving-kindness to Israel (63: 7-9). Jeremiah and Ezekiel, while denouncing Judah for its sins, hold before it the same picture of Divine forgiveness (Jer. 18: 8; Lam. 3: 32; Ezek. 33: 11). Joel expressly states that sincere repentance is the price of gaining Divine grace and mercy (2: 13; comp. Hosea 9:2-9). Amos, while speaking burning words to sinful Israel, still promises Divine grace to the saving remnant of Joseph (5: 15; Micah 7: 18-20).

The Psalms abound in expressions of hope for and confidence in Divine grace. It is found in conjunction with righteousness (116: 5) and mercy (103: 8) and compassion (111:4; 65: 10, where there may be an effort toward harmonizing the two attributes of God, grace and righteousness). In the Psalms there can be traced a gradual extension of the bestowal of Divine grace from the anointed king and his seed (18:50) to the poor and the needy (113: 7), then to all Israel (130: 7), to all the nations (117) and finally to all creatures (145: 9). Divine grace is accorded because God desires to keep His covenant (106: 45), and also out of consideration for human weakness (58: 39). It is vouchsafed to the persecuted (9: 13), to the fatherless, the widow, and the stranger (145:. 9).

The apocryphal writings, too, commemorate and appeal to this divine attribute. Divine grace is extended over all; "the mercy of the Lord is upon all flesh" (Ecclus. [Sirach] 8: 13) out of compassion to weak, sinful, and short-lived man. Grace is given to those who forgive the wrongs done to them by their fellow men (ibid. 28: 2, 5).

In the Talmud, Divine grace is designated by the term , the attribute of mercy, in contradistinction to , the attribute of justice. In creating the world, God combined the two attributes: "Thus said the Holy One, blessed be His name! 'If I create the world with the attribute of mercy, sin will abound; and if I create it with the attribute of justice, how can the world exist? Therefore I create it with both attributes, mercy and justice, and may it thus endure'" (Midrash Gen. Rabbah7: 15). The same is asserted about the creation of man (Midrash Gen. Rabbah 11: 8). This interpretation is based on the supposition, often expressed by the sages, that "Elohim" implies the quality of justice, and the Tetragrammaton the attribute of mercy (Midrash Ex. Rabbah 6: 2; Talmud Bavli Ber. 60b). God is sometimes called "the Merciful One": (Midrash Lev. Rabbah 17:4).


According to the sages, divine grace is given to those who are merciful to their fellow men (Midrash Gen. Rabbah x30: 3; Talmud Bavli Shab. 151b); about those who study the Law God ''draws a cord of grace''  in the future world (Talmud Bavli Chag. 12b). Grace is given to some because of the merit of their ancestors, to others because of the merit of their descendants (Midrash Gen. Rabbah 29: 5). The righteous have the power to change the attribute of justice to the attribute of mercy (ibid 33:4 ). The contrast between man's cruelty and God's grace is shown in Talmud Bavli Men. 99b and Talmud Bavli Er. 19a. by the sages deriving Divine grace in interpreting Lev. 22: 27, 28; Lev. 25: 6; Deut. 22: 7 , and discussed in more detail in Midrash Deut. Rabbah 6: 1). Rabbi Jose, however, declares that these commandments are not founded on grace, but are Divine decrees for which no reason may be given (Talmud Bavli Ber. 33b; Talmud Bavli Meg. 25a).

From the above it is clear that the frequent assertion that the idea of Divine grace is not fully expressed in the TaNaK and in the Talmud has no foundation. The medieval Jewish philosophers essays and books on the attributes of God, did not mention grace, as it sounded too Pauline.  Saadia Gaon, of Babylon, the first Rabbi to write about God's   attributes after the closing of the Talmud Bavli circa 498 BCE, enumerates only those which express the very essence of God without infringing upon the idea of His unity. The other philosophers followed Saadia's example. Judah ha-Levi, however, mentions the attributes ("merciful and gracious") among the so-called "active attributes" in his book "Cuzari." (pp. 87,88).

The Jewish liturgy is full of the idea of Divine grace. It is expressed in praise and adoration, in supplication ("Ahavah Rabbah"), and in thanksgiving ("Shemoneh Esreh"). God is addressed as the "merciful God," "merciful Father," and "merciful King." The long prayer recited on Mondays and Thursdays, beginning "Yehu Racḥum," the weekdays when the Torah is read, is particularly a prayer for grace in times of persecution. The liturgy for the New-Year and the Day of Atonement is permeated with the idea of God's abundant grace.

While both Christianity and Judaism have a God with infinite grace, Christianity has humans being born sinful, and immediately receiving unearned grace. Judaism has humankind being born pure, with both a yetzer hara and a yetzer tov, an inclination to be selfish, and an inclination to be altruistic, and born into infinite grace.  And in Judaism, when we miss the mark (chet, mistranslated as 'sin'), and turn our backs on the gift of grace, we receive an automatic guarantee of God's returning grace by sincere repentance, teshuvah, Jewish Spiritual Renewal and re-awakening. (Midrash Lamentations Rabbah 3:33). God never removes grace from us, nor turns His back towards us. It is we, who with our yetzer ha ra, turn our backs to God, and ignore His bountiful grace. So for Jews, every day, we are spiritual awakened to accept the grace that is freely given, is another day we receive the grace. As with most things, things that we work for and earn, have more meaning and value to us, than things that are freely given to everyone.


Jewish Spiritual Renewal

Jewish Renewal

Jewish Spirituality

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Jewish Encyclopedia 1906

Original Essays, Talmudic Discourses,  and Books by Rabbi Arthur Segal

Essay by Rabbi R. Shapiro

Original Biblical and Talmudic and Rabbinic Texts as sited above

''Duties of the Heart'', Rabbi Ibn Pekudah


Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Jewish Renewal
Jewish Spirituality
Hilton Head Island, SC; Bluffton, SC; Savannah, GA