Newsletter            January 3, 2013 - 21 Tevet 5773

 Respectful Compassion    

Is it good news or bad? The Jewish population of Israel has passed the six million mark, and, as an article mentioned, has matched the number murdered during the Holocaust. The number has achieved sufficient mystical status to allow people to forget that not a single soul can be replaced. The bad news is that another myth is dangerously close to shattering the connection many have with the State of Israel: Ignore our history in the land, forget that we have prayed for our return to Jerusalem three times each day for more than two thousand years, and accept, "Israel was established as a response to the Holocaust." Now that the Jewish population has reached the magical number, I expect we will soon hear voices declaring the Holocaust over.

Ever since I overheard someone calling a friend to say, "I really need to do a Mitzvah today, so I'll drive you to your chemo," I've been frightened of being the victim of someone's Mitzvah. My stomach twists into the same knots when people speak of Israel's establishment as a compassionate response to the Holocaust.  I don't want Israel to be the victim of the world's compassion.

Did Moses not have compassion on the slaves when he killed the Egyptian taskmaster? Yes, which is why he failed to help his brethren in any manner for the following sixty-seven years! Was it worth killing a single taskmaster and having to escape his adopted grandfather's fury, rather than remain in the palace as an advocate for his brethren? How could he live as a refugee for almost seven decades and not do anything for his people? When Moses heard a Jew complain, "Do you propose to murder me, as you murdered the Egyptian?" he thought, "Now I understand why they are slaves (Rashi, Exodus 2:14)." The compassion that made him protect the assaulted Jew melted away in a loss of respect.

Why did God debate Moses for seven days (Rashi 4:10)? Why did God not speak of His compassion for Israel? Why did He not demand compassion from Moses? God argued for seven days to teach Moses that this was not an act of compassion, but one of respect. God did not want Moses to begin his leadership with compassion, but with respect, admiration for their spiritual strength, appreciation of their potential. Compassion will wax and waver. "The Lord saw the Children of Israel, and the Lord knew (2:25)." It doesn't say that God was compassionate or merciful. It says that God "knew," the people for who they were and what they would become.

People who compassionately respond to a friend overwhelmed by life eventually lose patience and rebuke their suffering friend to "push yourself, try harder," without realizing that their compassion is crushing the person they are trying to help. Their compassion has displaced respect, and when constantly tested, shrivels into insensitive "help." Huge compassionate projects fizzle out in the major donors' boredom - time dilutes compassion. Successful efforts always begin with respect, respectful compassion, an appreciation of the beneficiaries' honor.

We confidently call out to God the Compassionate because His compassion is rooted in respect for us, expressed in the gift of Free Choice. Divine Compassion is Respectful, and lasting, as ours should be.  Israel deserves our compassion based on our respect for her magnificent accomplishments, not based on the Holocaust. Israel merits Respectful Compassion as do the people who turn to us for help. Moses learned from God, as can we.   


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Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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