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Kindness, empathy and refinement of the soul

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Kindness, empathy and refinement of the soul

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

As a writer, I mostly chose the topic of my writing on the basis of the contemporary trend and or what comes into my mind. But seldom do I write being suggested by someone. When I was a reporter, it was my professional obligation of following the assignment of the editor. But that was long back.

Kim Josephine is a book author, screen writer and film producer. Though we met on the social media, Kim had already known my name as she read a book named ‘Cracking The Koranic Code’, which was co-authored by me. In fact a Hollywood actress referred this book to her. But quickly after we met on the social media, both of us felt the warmth of divinity. She being a Kohen Daughter had been extremely kind on me while I realized a kind of extreme spirituality in Kim. Quickly we became brother and sister.

Few days back, in response to a message from me drawing her attention on a photograph where a Bangladeshi journalist is seen laying on the monument built in the memory of the Holocaust victims in Berlin, Germany, Kim Josephine wrote, “Do not rebuke mockers, or they will hate you; rebuke the wise, and they will love you – king Solomon. Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel – King Solomon.

“Thank you Salah [she calls me by my first name though my name is Shoaib or in Hebrew – Jethro] for sending me all this. I did not receive the photograph, but maybe there people carry too much hatred in their heart to merit a place with G-d. Some people are so deeply entrenched in evil – they do not merit to receive the inner wisdom to leave their ways. But for you searching for the good in men, you certainly will be rewarded. Just remember Abraham and how he searched and searched for good people among Sodom and Gemorah. Just because someone says he “believed” in G-d does not mean that he really does. The destruction of evil will come. It is a promise of the End of Days – we are living in them right now. The King Messiah will be sent by G-d and the Evil inclination and the Angel of Death/the Devil Sama-el will be destroyed for good by G-d himself. Because there will be enough people proving that they are worth for the Angel of Death to be destroyed. It is all a test and only the wise and kind will prevail. It is very honorable that you keep searching for good in man. May I suggest that you write an article about the general idea of kindness and empathy and what it means and the refinement of the soul and do so over and over again. Maybe even through poetry. Then reintroduce topics of Jewish issues. Maybe you will have another ear listening. Just an idea. May G-d bless you always.”

Amen!

How can I disrespect the divine and precious suggestions of a Kohen Daughter? I certainly can’t. Moreover, Kim Josephine has a very special place in my heart. It is not just because she is my sister but because of the excellent human qualities in her – the kindness for every human being.

Few weeks back, when I was feeling terrible being mocked by a ‘Jewish’ individual, I did publish a post on my Facebook Timeline. Realizing the degree of pain in me, Kim Josephine wrote, “Salah you have a heart of flesh, not stone. You are a son of G-d, son of Israel, our brother and we love you. You just have to call us and we are there. You have sacrificed your life over and over again for what you see as justice and G-d sees everything and we see it too. May I humbly say that I am very proud of you and all Jewish people and people all over the world can learn a lot from you. You ignite the fire in us, to love our fellow women and men and to value the preciousness of our relationship with G-d and justice. All Jewish people can learn from you. I apologize deeply for those, whose hearts have turned to stone. May G-d always bless you, protect you, guide you, keep you and may we see true peace in this world in our lifetime.”

Amen!

Extremely powerful words! Such words can only come from the pen of a virtuous person whose heart is decorated with kindness and empathy for the people.

Eminent psychotherapist Carl Rogers wrote, “Empathy is the accurate understanding of the other person’s world as seen from the inside.” In colloquial terms, a person possesses empathy if he can honestly say to another person, “I know where you’re coming from.” Borrowing from the language of Native Americans, empathy is the ability to “walk in the other person’s moccasins.”

Over time, I began to appreciate that empathy is an important ingredient in every area of human relations, and not only in the counseling profession. Furthermore, I came to learn that the dictionary definition of “empathy” goes beyond Rogers’ call for “accurate understanding” and transcends the capacity to “know” where the other person is coming from. There is an emotional component to empathy as well, and it is reflected in the dictionary definition: “The ability to share in another’s emotions or feelings.” Webster’s New World Dictionary informs us that the origin of the English word “empathy” is to be found in the Greek word “pathos,” or “feeling.” In fact, the use of the word “empathy” in the English language was the result of an attempt to translate the German word einfuhlung.

We can find much deeper meaning on empathy in the Torah. We often hear that Judaism cares only about what we do, not what we think or feel. But in reality, Judaism definitely cares deeply about how we feel.

Torah’s Parshas Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18). There, we find sound evidence that besides “knowing” where the other person is coming from, it is important to, using another colloquial phrase, “feel his pain.”

Torah says, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me… If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor… If you take your neighbor’s garment in pledge, you must return it to him before the sun sets; it is his only clothing… In what else shall he sleep? Therefore, if he cries out to Me, I will pay heed, for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 22:20-26).

These verses make it clear that it is not only decent behavior toward the needy that is expected of us. Rather, we must “know where they are coming from,” for after all, we too were once strangers. And we must “feel the pain” of the widow and the orphan and the poor, and we must appreciate how close they are to tears of desperation.

I quote from the Yalkut on Psalms 62, paragraph 723: “A human being, mere flesh and blood, cannot hear the cries of two individuals who are crying simultaneously. However, the Creator can. Even when all of the world’s inhabitants cry out at once, He hears every individual cry, as it is written, ‘All mankind comes to You, You who hear prayer.’ (Psalms 65:3).”

Faithful Jews have traditionally valued empathy in interpersonal affairs.

Here is another relevant passage from the Talmud. It says, “When the community is suffering, a person should not say to himself, ‘I will go to my own home, and eat and drink, and imagine myself at peace…’ But rather, he should share in the community’s pain. So we find that Moses our Master shared in the pain of the community, as is written: ‘But Moses’ hands grew heavy; so they took a stone, and put it under him and he sat on it…’ Did Moses not have a cushion or pillow to sit upon? No! Moses insisted, ‘Since Israel is in pain, I will be with them in their pain.’” (Babylonian Talmud Tractate Taanit 11a).

Moses understood the power of empathy even at the very beginning of his leadership career. According to Parshat Shemot, “Moses grew up and went out to his brethren and saw their suffering”. Rashi is apparently troubled by the following question: “If he went out to his brethren, do we need to be told that he saw their suffering? Obviously, he had eyes and he saw their suffering!”

Torah puts special emphasis on kindness. We know that the essence of the whole Torah is love of one’s fellow: There is the famous story of the sage Hilleland a person who wanted to convert, provided that Hillel would teach him the Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel answered: “What is hateful unto you, do not do to another. This is the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary.” What did he mean by this statement? He meant that love of one’s fellow is the key to the entire Torah. That’s what G‑d wants, first and foremost. And if a person has love for a fellow Jew, that will lead to Torah and love of G‑d.

One may ask, “Now, why should I go ahead and give up my time to help a person whom I don’t even know? I don’t know who the beneficiaries of this red heifer are going to be. Who knows? Maybe it won’t happen for ten years!” Do you think the red heifer mixture was used every single day? It was kept in a certain part of the Holy Temple and whenever it was necessary it was used. It’s not as if it was for your next door neighbor, for your mother, your brother; maybe for them a priest would have expended his time and purity making it. But for a total stranger?! Why should a Jew do that? Should a normal person go and harm himself to help another Jew?

“This is the decree of the Torah.” A person should not only want to help another Jew when he gets a prize, when he becomes Chairman of the Dinner or Man of the Year. Everyone will know that this person did a great deed; it’ll be in the newspaper, and he’ll get a lot of honor for it. That’s not necessarily love for one’s fellow. It’s more like serving yourself. Who knows if you are really doing the good deed for others, or because you want everyone else to know how nice you are? What is your real intention?

But if you do something for another and not only don’t you get rewarded for it, but you also become impure for it, that is real self sacrifice. When you sacrifice yourself for another, not only don’t you get a prize, but you also, in a sense, suffer for it. That is “the decree of the Torah.”

If you ever go to a Jewish funeral – we should never have to go to one – you may notice that on the car carrying the deceased, there are four Hebrew letters – gimmelchetshinalef. These stand for the words gemilut  chessed shel emet – acts of true kindness. Why is this called “true kindness?” Because when you do a kindly act, someone will say, “Oh, you’re so nice. I love you. You’re such a nice person.” Well, you like to hear that, so you go help others so that everyone will tell you how nice you are – you go on an ego trip. But if you go and bury a dead person, he’ll never say “Thank you” to you. That’s it – you’re just doing it for him. It is true kindness.

I am not a religious scholar rather my knowledge on religion is very little. Still I had to obey the instruction (I would rather love saying this way) from my loving sister Kim Josephine. In life, I never ignore good people – people with the heart of gold. How can I dare ignoring a Kohen Daughter?

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz

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Blitz’s Editorial Board is responsible for the stories published under this byline. This includes editorials, news stories, letters to the editor, and multimedia features on WeeklyBlitz.net

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