It is a new year and we can either look at the positives or dwell on the negatives.
Sometimes we see our own small world and evaluate everything based on how it affects us. However, it is so important that we look beyond ourselves and see our friends, neighbors and those we don’t even know. We try to keep our children (and ourselves) from scary things in the news but often the news gives us opportunities for teaching and learning valuable lessons. An important Jewish value to remember and teach as we begin the year is rachamim, the Hebrew word usually translated as compassion.
As we acknowledge other people’s feelings, thoughts and experiences, we feel compassion for them — we identify with them and want to help them, which is also called empathy. Psychologists tell us that compassion and empathy begin to develop in the first years of life. In fact, scientists assume that we are biologically wired for these feelings. Yet, we must also teach our children to be empathetic and compassionate. Rabbi Wayne Dosick in Golden Rules says:
You can teach your children that a good decent, ethical person has a big, loving heart when they feel you feeling another’s pain, when they know that you are committed to alleviating human suffering.
You can teach your children that a good, decent, ethical person has big, open hands when they watch you give of your resources — generously and often — and when they watch you give of the work of your hands — willingly and joyfully.
You can teach your children that a good, decent, ethical person can fulfill the sacred task of celebrating the spark of the Divine in each human being and the preciousness of each human being when you teach them to imitate God who is “gracious, compassionate and abundant in kindness; who forgives mistakes, and promises everlasting love.”
Some of the questions we should ask our children are: What does it mean to be kind to a friend? Think of a time when someone hurt you. How did it feel? Try to “put yourself in someone’s shoes.” What does that mean? How does it help us to understand others? How can we show compassion to strangers?
This is an opportunity to talk not just about how we feel but what we can do. We must show our children that we must act — we all can do something and this is an opportunity to teach tzedakah at work.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.