How many times have we said to someone: “I know how you feel….”? This is such a simple phrase, yet so powerful. When we say it in a heartfelt way, we express our empathy with the person who has just shared his/her story with us.
But, how many times do we say: “I know how you feel” to a stranger?
Probably not too many times!
Empathy comes naturally to us when we feel a connection with people. But, when we relate to “others”, to “strangers,” we need to work on ourselves in order for us to relate in an empathetic manner. And, that is what the Torah challenges us to do!
The Torah teaches us that we are supposed to treat the stranger with compassion. It challenges us to remember that our ancestors were once slaves in Egypt. We are supposed to remember and repeat that ancestral story of slavery, over and over. We were strangers in the land of Egypt. And, we were mistreated. Hopefully, having reminded ourselves of this story, we can more easily empathize not only with people in our closest circle, but also with strangers, with “other” people with whom we may have very little in common!
The Torah invites us to stretch our spiritual selves and to apply our ethics not only to those in our closest circle but also to those beyond our circle. The Torah wants us to embrace the stranger and to encompass a broader segment of the population around us with the warmth of our caring tradition. The Torah wants us to be able to say: “I know how you feel” to the strangers in our midst so that we remember to treat all people with dignity and with respect.
What a beautiful Torah we have! May we preserve it, remembering our history, and using it to fashion a better world in the days to come.
This Shabbat we will recite the blessing of the new month of Adar Rishon (the first of the two months of Adar in this Jewish leap year). Rosh Chodesh Adar Rishon will be on Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday of this coming week. May it be a month of great blessing and of joy!
Rabbi Gilah Dror