Religion? Faith? Ethics? I’m trying to figure it all out. Right now I’m trying to understand Compassion.
It is said that if a person has no teacher that Elijah will come to him. Perhaps this is because the Torah should not suffer fools. I should be so blessed. I am a fool trying not to dishonour the teachings that give me comfort and all I can do is cobble together teachers as they fly toward me through random readings and lectures. The ideas are formed from limited physical minds, albeit Divinely Inspired, thinking about Torah, about the Meaning of Existence, and spreading It out over the landscape of time and space. And I wander across the desert of this world with my own broken, limited mind, encaged in time and space, looking for jewels hidden in the sand.
But I think Hillel is a good person to listen to if I am trying to learn such a thing as compassion.
“If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am ‘I’? Ethics of the Fathers (Pirke Avot, Nezikin, Mishnah) 1:14
“Do not judge another until you have stood in his shoes.” – Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot, Nezikin, Mishnah) 2:4
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” — Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
So it would seem that compassion is being able to see the other inside yourself. I feel like the fool who stood before Hillel jumping on one foot and said “Teach me.” This was after Shammai hit the fool with a his measuring rod and said “You don’t measure up.” And rightly so. I don’t. I am unworthy. Very few measure up. Torah is an Endless Sea that only grows the deeper we go into it. All that we are and all that we know is burnt away before the Eternal. Schopenhauer says that time and space is an illusion that separates us. Perhaps we are all sparks of compassion, of common understanding, clothed in an illusion of time and space, yearning to connect.
Reb Sneerson says that if one sees light to raise that spark. If one sees only darkness then they need to raise themselves. I think most of us live in a world of light and darkness.
There are many lost souls seeking comfort. If they can’t find it in a religion they seek it on the internet. I know, because I have described myself and I see myself reflected in the world and on social media. Most everybody has “a story” and, having no connection with others, we believe our misery is unique. In a way our misery is unique but in a way it isn’t. We don’t understand someone else’s pain because we only wallow in our own pain. But we share experience, negative as well as positive. We share joys as well as misery. This will seem strange, but one of the experiences we share is that we are all separate people. I think my/our feeling of separateness is perhaps one of the greatest challenges we have to overcome.
I think religion has been trying to answer those questions of meaning and connectedness for thousands and thousands of years. Hassidic Jews talk about love and compassion, about a connectedness with all things and people. All the stories and philosophies are supposed to reach back to ancient writings – written, rewritten, lost and transformed – and an ancient language embedded into the fabric of time and civilization. Belief in God has been around longer than civilization. God Exists, even though we have no way to understand what that means.
And at the heart of everything is love and compassion. We are a shared humanity. That is the light shining out of the darkness. That is what we all need and want.