On Grace and Gratitude
This week I was fortunate to attend a lecture at Yale on Grace and Gratitude. The lecture was held at Yale divinity and was incredibly informative and interesting. However, it was also very theologically Christian. I left thinking of the word grace in Hebrew, Chen, and what grace means from a Jewish perspective. I found the following article online to be very helpful: http://ancient-hebrew.org/emagazine/058.html#biblicalword.
The article opens with the author defining grace in modern terms as:
1. Elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion or action
2. Mercy; clemency; pardon
He then goes on to explain how the Hebrew bible views Grace and how it is different from the above understanding. As was mentioned above the Hebrew word for Grace in Chen. The root of the word Chen is contained in the word to camp, Machaneh.
So, what is the connection between Grace and camping? To understand this we need to look at another Hebrew word that shares the same root as Chen, Chanan. The word Chanan means" healing, help, being lifted up, finding refuge, strength and salvation (literally rescue).
Then according to the article:
"From a concrete Hebraic perspective, חנן (Chanan) means..."providing protection." Where does one run to for protection? The camp, and now we see how חנה (Chanah or Machaneh) the camp, and חנן (Chanan), protection, are related."
The word Chen is then "paralleled with "beauty." This "beauty" is something that is precious and graceful, which is exactly how the Hebrews would have seen the "camp of protection," a graceful and precious place."
Grace is an interesting thing. Grace is usually seen as a gift from above, something that is divinely bestowed. Grace is a gift given out of mercy to save someone.
Therefore, are humans capable of bestowing Grace? Perhaps not in the way that God bestows grace through spiritual blessing and strength, but we can emulate grace. How do we emulate grace? Through concrete actions like sending our children to a place where they can be lifted up, find refuge, and strength: Camp.
I know it is only November, but it is actually a good time to start thinking about summer and how we can bestow grace upon our children and grandchildren by sending them to camp. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) has many wonderful summer programs and I encourage you to explore them and take advantage of the opportunities they provide: https://urjyouth.org/camps/.
Judaism definitely has a unique take on grace, that is less about mercy (that is the Hebrew word Rachamim, which we can talk about at some other point) and more about providing comfort, protection and help.