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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
P29–-GOMEIL CHASSADIM TOVIM
April 5, 2007
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Having looked at each of the words in this phrase, it is now time to put them together. Gomeil can be translated as "doing," "acting," "replenishing," or "bearing a burden." Chassadim is understood as "beneficence," "kindness" or simply "love." And tovim carries every meaning of the word "good" moral, high quality, beneficial.

The idea of God being gomeil chassadim (tovim) echoes with the familiar phrase "gemilut chassadim," from the same roots. The notion of gemilut chassadim is acts of kinds done for selfless reasons. There are mitzvot which we do out of a sense of obligation and expectation, but also those things we do that are beyond the letter of the law such as helping a person across a busy street, offering a kind word to someone who is upset, or, in the extreme, providing for someone's burial. Gemilut chassadim includes all of those generous acts we perform because we seek to cultivate our own kindest attributes. Sometimes, we do those acts to repay specific kindnesses. Other times, we do them simply to repay God for the blessings that have been showered upon us out of grace, that is, undeservedly. In that sense, "gemilut," like "gomeil," has the sense of replenishment.

Being kind, being giving takes a certain amount of energy. Though we like to think of kindness as a bottomless well, the fact is we expend our love and our reservoirs need to be refilled. It is that task we attribute to God with this particular phrase. It is hard to translate literally my many attempts turned out this awkward double sequence:


"replenishes our good kindnesses and selfless acts
by
doing good and loving acts."

Those are far too many words to have to think about in reciting "gomeil chassadim tovim," three simple words. So I distilled the ideas into an easier phrase that, I hope, captures the essence of the many connotations of the words that first describe the actions of God after a long description of God's majesty. God is "gomeil chassadim tovim," God returns our best to us.

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