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Sunday, 7 February, 2021 - 12:00 pm


by Rabbi Fishel Zaklos

"These are times that try men's souls," said Thomas Paine. This past year has tried our souls. We have been tested in ways we never thought possible. We've seen and endured so much suffering and pain.How does one deal with the intensity of emotions and challenges of these times?There are three ways:



Empathy.These three words describe different attitudes one might apply when reacting to the feelings, challenges, pain and loss suffered by our fellow human beings. Each is quite different from the other. 

Apathy: I don’t see you. I don’t care.

Sympathy: Poor you. I see you. You are such a nebbish, a wimp - I’ll help you out of the kindness of my heart. I'll ask how you're doing, but I really don't want to know. I have much to tell you, but there's nothing I want to hear from you.

Empathy: I see you as a human being. I see you as a child of the Creator. I see you. I hear you. Tell me about yourself. What can I do for you? I have so much to learn from you.We can all agree that no one admires apathy as a moral and aspirational ethos.Sympathy, however, is ambiguous. It sounds great but it puts people on various rungs of the ladder, where have-nots seem ‘lesser’ than those who have. We look at one another vertically rather than horizontally.

Let’s look at the standard-bearer of Jewish leadership: Moses our teacher - Moshe Rabeinu, the famous fellow from the Exodus story. What did G-d see in Moses, making him worthy of leading the Hebrews out of Egypt? What X-Factor made him stand taller than other leaders of the time? His empathy. When he looked at people he saw a reflection of himself. Their social status did not matter, he loved them. His loving attitude also showed in his original occupation as a shepherd of his father-in-law’s flock.

The Talmud tells us G-d was so impressed with his kindness that He felt confident to entrust Moses with the historical task of leading the people into freedom. He was a נושא בעול עם חבירו He walked among the people with their challenges, helping them carry their load.

Moses was truly kind. True kindness is a child of empathy. To give with one’s whole heart is only possible when one does not see the person who lacks as any less than oneself. The homeless beggar, the addict, the person with disabilities is no less human than oneself. They are beautiful and worthy of dignity and respect.

We are all God’s children, deserving of empathy, deserving to be seen and heard.

Does that mean we have to take on the pain of almost 8 billion people? That is simply not possible. Developing empathy is not about saving the world (an overused cliché); rather, it is about how we interact with our family, friends, and community. We lean into our relationships with those close to us, and the ripple effect spreads far beyond ourselves.

Here in Collier County I am truly blessed to be living in an amazing community! This area is so filled with generosity and goodness.

Wherever I look there is so much empathy! Our shared struggle has brought us closer together, and we have learned to lean on one another.

It is this perseverance and unity that gives me faith that 2021 will be happier and brighter, because we will make it so!


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