Views on Compassion


In the Jewish tradition, God is the Compassionate and is invoked as the Father of Compassion: Hence Rahmana or Compassionate becomes the usual designation for His revealed word.  (Compare, below, the frequent use of rahman in the Quran).  Sorrow and pity for one in distress, creating a desire to relieve, is a feeling ascribed alike to man and god: in Biblical Hebrew, (“riham,” from “rehem,” the mother, womb), “to pity” or “to show mercy” in view of the sufferer’s helplessness, hence also “to forgive”, “to forbear.”  The Rabbis speak of the “thirteen attributes of compassion.”  The Biblical conception of compassion is the feeling of the parent for the child.  Hence the prophet’s appeal in confirmation of his trust in God invokes the feeling of a mother for her offspring.

Lack of compassion, by contrast, marks a people as cruel.  The repeated injunctions of the law and the Prophets that the widow, the orphan and the stranger should be protected show how deeply, it is argued, the feeling of compassion was rooted in the hearts of the righteous in ancient Israel.  Compassion, empathy, altruism, kindness and love are frequently used interchangeably in common usage.  When the concept is examined in depth it becomes clear that compassion is more than simply a human emotion.  Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, is particularly clear about this.  One rabbi has put it this way: Kindness gives to another.  Compassion knows no other.

This idea is greatly expanded by Michael Laitman who says, “Thus if we thoroughly examine Nature’s elements, we will see that altruism is the basis of life.”  Here altruism is the word used but the concept is consistent with an understanding of compassion.

A classic articulation of the Golden Rule (see above) came from the first century Rabbi Hillel the Elder.  Renowned in the Jewish tradition as a sage and a scholar, he is associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud and, as such, one of the most important figures in Jewish history.  Asked for a summary of the Jewish religion in the (while standing on one leg) meaning in the most concise terms, Hillel stated: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.  That is the whole Torah.  The rest is the explanation; go and learn.”  Post 9/11, the words of Rabbi Hillel are frequently quoted in public lectures and interviews around the world by the prominent writer on comparative religion, Karen Armstrong.

Many Jewish sources speak of the importance of compassion for animals.  Significant rabbis who have done so include Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rabbi Simhah Zissel Ziv, and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero.

Source: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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