Jewish Value of the Week: Empathy — Rachamim
The Hebrew word, rachamim, is 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 G-d who is “gracious, compassionate, and abundant in kindness; who forgives mistakes, and promises everlasting love.”
Family Talk Time
- What does it mean to be kind to a friend? What does it mean to be kind to an animal?
- 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?
Shabbat Discussion: Tell about Rabbi Tanchum of whom it is said, “When he needed only one portion of meat for himself, he would buy two; one bunch of vegetables, he would buy two — one for himself and one for the poor.” How could you do this in your family? Make a promise to think of others when grocery shopping — buy a second portion of something for the food bank.
Story for Shabbat: The Lazy Artist
— from “Brainteasers From Jewish Folklore” by Rosalind Chaney Kaye
A king wished to build the most splendid palace imaginable. After years of construction, it was finally ready to be painted. Two artists were hired to make the palace look like no other in the world. The first artist was asked to decorate one side of each hallway, the second to adorn the facing walls.
The first artist searched the world for beautiful colors and designs, and spent five years painting wonderful images of animals and landscapes. The second artist spent most of his time doodling and daydreaming.
Finally the first artist was almost finished. The lazy artist began to worry, then to panic. With only a short time left to work, how could he equal the splendid pictures of his colleague? He covered his walls with mirrors.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.