Chen

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008
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"But Noah found chen with the Lord" (Genesis 6:8)

Noah's chen, translated as "favour", exempted him from the diluvian fate of his contemporaries, but what does chen mean? It also means grace and beauty, as in "Chen is deceptive; beauty is illusory" (Proverbs 31:30). One senses that chen is a type of attractiveness that might be superficial or unearned. Indeed, in Yiddish, machen chen means to flirt.

The great 19th century commentator, Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein,( the Torah Temimah), comments that chen implies the receipt of something not through one's own merit but rather through the grace and kindness of the giver.

Thus, to plead is lehitchanen, to try to find favour with someone in a position of power. Moses was mitchanen before God to be allowed into the Land of Israel. The rabbis comment on the word va'etchanan, "I pleaded with the Lord" (Deuteronomy 3:23), that Moses asked for a free gift (matnat chinam). Moses did not rest on his merits, but asked God to set aside the rules in this case, to grant him amnesty (chaninah), as it were.

It does not have hurt to have chen but as it can sometimes be only skin-deep, it is not enough to get by on. "May we find favour and good sense with God and fellow people," we say in Grace after Meals. Chen, along with brains, is the ideal Jewish combination.

    Last updated: 12:29pm, November 5 2008