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Radical and Extreme Compassion

December 30, 2015

By Aryeh Ben David

Rav Kook writes that “emuna and ahava” (belief and love) go together. Any deepening in belief brings a deepening of love. God, the Creator of the World, is the source of love and emanates oneness. Emuna and ahava are the forces of oneness in the world.

Anger and violence are a negation of belief and God. When people celebrate violence they are celebrating themselves and have forgotten God.

Rav Kook writes that even Moses was punished and not allowed into the Promised Land because of his anger. Moses, the greatest teacher of Israel, carried with him an element of rage and fire, the fire of a burning bush. And even for Moses – this was a decisive fault.

Our hearts break at witnessing Jews, who the Talmud refers to as – “the compassionate ones born from compassionate ones” – celebrating violence.

It is not easy to survive in the Middle East. We have all suffered and experienced heart-breaking tragedies. There is probably not one of us who has not had a moment of revengeful thoughts. But . . . We can be strong and courageous and still be full of belief and love.

I feel the need to condemn and vilify these acts of horror. But it is too easy to stop there and just judge the appalling acts of others.

Especially now, when the family is broken-hearted one more time, it is an opportunity for radical and extreme compassion. We need to become more a loving people. Not just for the people we already identify with, but especially for those with whose views we do not agree. It is possible to love, while still disagreeing. It is possible to disagree – religiously, politically, ideologically – and still love.

I believe that there is truth in my view of the world, but it would be preposterous for me to believe that my approach contains all of the truth. I hope that all rabbis, from every denomination, accept that their way does not possess all of the truth.

And so, if we the Jewish People are going to survive on this Land, we need to put compassion as our highest religious value. The Vilna Gaon wrote that the test of a sacred argument was if the partakers were still friends after they argued. The children of Hillel and Shammai married each other.

Radical and extreme compassion does not only include the big, contentious issues, but also the small moments. I usually am a horribly aggressive drive. Today I slowed down and let others cut in. I saw an old acquaintance, someone I would usually just wave hello to, and stopped to talk for a moment. The changing of our society, of becoming a compassionate Jewish People, begins here and now with me.

Rav Kook wrote that at core we are loving beings, and that all of our learning and religious observance is in order to clear away the obstacles of our becoming more loving people. We need to stop measuring our religious leaders by how much they know and observe – but by how much they are models of kindness and love.

We need our rabbis to be THE exemplars of love and compassion.

And we can all look within ourselves and discover even more belief and love. There is more to find.