Friday, December 28, 2007

Shmot: Elusive Empathy

“And it was during those days, and Moshe grew up,
and went out to his brothers, and saw in their suffering.”

“I feel your pain.” “I hear you.” “That must be hard.” These are actual attempts we make at empathy. But do people really care? Is it possible to empathize?
Rashi says that Moshe “put his eyes and heart into suffering with them.” The Torah’s words indicate what Rashi is getting at, that Moshe truly put his whole being into the suffering of his brothers. He was aware of current events and did not stay insulated from the reality of his times. He grew from being a child and prepared himself to face the world as an adult. Beyond awareness understanding he actually picked himself up, left his own world and physically visited the situation of his brothers. Then he moved on to truly seeing their pain.
The Medrash says that Moshe put his shoulder under their loads and shared the weight with them. While the help he could offer to a mass of enslaved human beings may have been negligible, the benefit he gained from putting his shoulder next to theirs was inestimable. He felt what they felt; he experienced the muscular soreness, the devestation of spirit.
The rabbis list forty-eight ways through which one integrates Torah into his being. One of these ways of acquiring Torah is to carry the burden of another (“Nosei BeOl Im Chaveiro – Avot 6:6). Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (the spiritual guide -mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland. Lived from 1874-1936) points out that Torah means all of Torah. While many might perceive a religious person who is lacking in empathy as deficient in his Torah observance toward other people, it is broader than that. As Rabbi Abraham Twerski puts it, “ Since true empathy and sharing another’s burden is an essential for Torah, one cannot be Torah observant if one is derelict in this trait.”
May we be blessed to truly empathise. G-d knows it’s not easy.

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