Compassion for the Vulnerable


To Brother Cornel West the concept of Hesed is central. I had never heard of Hesed before I heard him talk about it. I guess that shows profound ignorance. In the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, if you like, when God appeared to Moses to give the Law a second time, he said that he was  “abounding in” or “filled with” Hesed, which is translated  as “love and faithfulness,” “unfailing love,” “faithful love,” “steadfast love,” and “loyal love,” depending on which version of the Bible that you read. The relevant passage is (Exodus 34:6–7). The idea is that of a love that is loyal within a group. West emphasizes, as did American Philosopher Walter Kaufman, the idea of compassion for the vulnerable that is so important in the Hebrew Bible. Once more, that is the essence of religion. I believe that it is the essence of the religious quest in the modern world.

Cornel West says that the greatest play on the American Empire is Eugene O’Neil’s The Iceman Cometh. The plays deals with the idea, what does it profit a nation to gain the whole world and lose its soul?

The western tradition is important, but it is also limited.  The western tradition had no room for indigenous people of Africa or the Americas.  I went through 7 years of university without paying any attention to any part of the indigenous culture other than the western culture. That is what I thought culture was all about. I, like so many others was completely western centric. The western tradition was all that mattered. I did not see vulnerable.

Now we know better. Even I know better. We need African culture and tradition. We need indigenous culture and tradition from the Americas, and from everywhere! Anything less is shabby. We need to learn from the oppressed. If we get all our ideas from the dominant culture we are badly served.

Walter Isaacson when he interviewed West on PBS’s Amanpour & Co asked West  how these others could be added to the western tradition? How do they become a part of it?  West’s answer was very interesting.  He said the way to be part of it is to challenge it. We must challenge the dominant culture to learn from those that were oppressed by it. That is the start.

That is something that modern conservatives don’t want to do. For example, they worry about critical race theory which is used to challenge white supremacy. They don’t like it when their dominant culture is challenged. They don’t want their children to be challenged. They don’t want their children to be disturbed. But that is what you must do to wake up and see more than your own privilege. The point is not to make white children feel guilty. That serves no purpose.  The point is to make them see.

Hesed means to be concerned about and have love for others. To do that you must first see them. If you don’t notice them you won’t care. So you can’t be scared to look and look without blinkers or rose coloured glasses.


Leave a Reply