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לעילוי נשמת הרב ישראל יוסף אליהו בן ר׳ טוביה הלוי זצ״ל
Rabbi Yosef Lasdun, zt”l

לעילוי נשמת הרב ראובן צבי זצ”ל בן הרב מנחם יצחק הי”ו
Rabbi Reuven Bauman, zt”l

Note: This Kuntres it is not intended as a source of practical halachic (legal) rulings. For matters of halachah (practical details of Jewish law), please consult a qualified posek (rabbi).

What characteristic could be defined as a singularly Jewish trait? The Gemara in Mesechta Yevamos (79a) states that Dovid Hamelech said, “There are three defining characteristics of this nation: They are merciful, exhibit shame and perform acts of kindness.” Yet, we know that much kindness (chesed) is also conducted by the other nations?

Rav Matisyahu Salomon explains that there are two types of chesed: Ordinary chesed, and a special type of “chesed which emanates from the source of the Jewish soul,” (see Source III-9; p. 42). What is the meaning of “chesed which emanates from the source of the Jewish soul?” Rav Matisyahu explains: “I am driven to help my friend because of our close familial (“שאר בשר”) kinship, whereby his distress adversely affects me as if I am suffering from the same pain. I save my friend because I cannot bear my friend’s pain and thus, I feel that I am saving myself.” In other words, I perform this act of chesed not merely because I see someone who lacks something or because my emotions are aroused by his pitiful plight. Rather, his unmet need is transformed into my own need and his plight hurts me as if I stand in his stead enduring all the pain that he now suffers. My own pain on account of his suffering hurts me so much, that I am driven to do whatever I can to ameliorate the pain or at least share in his distress.

Rav Eytan Feiner explains that when Dovid HaMelech said in Tehillim (91:15), “עמו אנכי בצרה” – “I am with him in distress” – it denotes that Hashem, kavayachol (so to speak), feels our suffering to same extent that we experience it. Despite the exalted state of HaKadosh Boruch Hu (HKB”H), with regard to the Jewish people’s suffering, He, kavayachol, puts himself on the very same plane as us, feeling every twinge of our pain and anguish. He is with us during each step we take through darkness and suffering. HKB”H does not spare Himself even one iota of our pain – He experiences every last morsel of our suffering (Ref. 61).

Rav Yechezkel Levenstein explains when Hashem created man in His Divine image (B’tzelem Elokim), he endowed us with the ability to access a portion of His capacity to share another’s feelings (Ref. 4). Thus, we were given the ability to transcend our human limitations and vicariously experience our fellow Jew’s pain or joy, as if we are living through the very events which affects him or her. Therefore, Rav Feiner says, it is within our capacity to authentically say to our fellow Jew, “עמו אנכי בצרה” – “I am with you in your distress” – every step of the way. It does not matter where you are or what “type” of Jew you are – if you are in pain – so am I. There are no barriers between your heart and mine – we are on the same level.

This type of empathy, whereby one person feels another person’s pain or joy as if experiencing it himself, is described in Pirkei Avos as the ma’alah (virtue) of Nosei B’ol Im Chaveiro, carrying (i.e., sharing) a fellow’s burden (Source I-1, p. 5). What gives us the ability to have such profound empathy? Sefer Tomer Devorah explains: “All Jews are close familial relations (“שאר בשר”) with another because our souls are combined together … Our fellow’s pain should cause us anguish as if we were to suffer the same pain ourselves. Conversely, our fellow’s honor and success should gladden us as if we were to enjoy the same good fortune ourselves,” (Source III-3, p. 33).

In Dearer Than Life – Making Your Life More Meaningful, Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD, writes: “The Jerusalem Talmud states that a person should not seek revenge against someone who had harmed or offended him, any more than if one had injured his left hand, he would hit it with his right hand as punishment for having caused him pain. … The soul is part of G-d Himself, and G-d is absolute unity. Therefore, all souls are essentially one. We are separate and distinct beings [only] by virtue of our physical bodies … To the extent that we minimize the importance of the body relative to the soul, and give the soul primacy, to that extent we are one, and can feel for another the way we feel for ourselves.”

By viewing all Jews as part of a unified entity, it would be impossible to take revenge against my fellow Jew just as it is impossible to take revenge against myself. More than just a prohibition against the specific act of revenge, the Torah is telling us that, on the level of the soul, we are truly one and the same as our fellow Jew. This unity, in turn, gives us the capacity to experience on a sensorial level, another Jew’s feelings of pain or joy. We are thus, spiritually “wired” to share each other’s feelings just as all parts of one biological organism are impacted by a serious assault to any one component of the same organism (see Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev; Source III-6, p. 37).

The Midrash (Tanna D’bai Eliyahu, states that the Jews who left Egypt made a covenant that they would perform acts of kindness (Gemillas Chessed) with each other. Why does performing chesed require creating a covenant?

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Dr. Avi Lasdun attended Telshe Yeshiva in Wickliffe Ohio, graduated with a bachelors in Biology from Touro College in 1985 and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from City University of New York in 1990. Avi worked for over twenty years in the pharmaceutical industry as a scientist. He is currently adapting scientific analytical and writing skills gained during his career to help develop Torah teaching tools that he hopes will activate a fuller array of intellectual and emotional capacities to enable a more holistic learning experience for students.

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