Ashrei 4: God’s Compassion
General Introduction: God’s Compassion: The Talmud tells a powerful story to describe God’s compassion for every detail of creation and its implications for us. It is a story about Rabbi Judah the Prince, the redactor of the Mishna. The Talmud describes how Rabbi Judah, Rebbi, was once sitting with the Sanhedrin, the Great Court of Israel, in their formal office on the Temple grounds. The Kohanim, or priests, were about to slaughter an animal as an offering, when the little lamb escaped, and ran out into the courtyard of the temple and hid under the skirts of Rebbi’s robe. Rebbi pulled the lamb out from underneath his robe, and said, “Listen, this is what you were created for, go back.” The lamb obeyed, and went back dragging his feet, very unhappy, but he listened to the spiritual leader of the Jewish people. The great Rabbi Judah barely noticed, and immediately returned to his scholarly debates.
God was not pleased with the rabbi’s insensitivity. He said, “ Because you showed no compassion to this animal I will have no compassion on you. You will be punished until you learn compassion.” The Talmud says that Rebbi was punished with horrible hemorrhoids for thirteen years and he suffered terrible agony for all those years. Thirteen painful years later, Rebbi heard his maid screaming, “Get out, get out, get out, get out, and get out.” Rebbi told his maid, “Do not swing at the weasel. It too, is one of God’s creations, and “His compassion is on all of His creations.” Rabbi Judah had learned compassion by better understanding of God’s compassion. He was healed. His suffering ended.
The Talmud uses this story to teach us how to use the idea of “God has compassion for all that He made”. Rabbi Judah had to learn that compassion demands that we are sensitive to the animal’s experience of being slaughtered in the Temple. The offerings were an important part of the Temple service, and we are meticulous in how we make the offering. Our care and concern can easily come at the cost of becoming insensitive to the animal’s suffering. God does not want our care for His service to have any ingredient of callousness. God wants us to remain sensitive to the animal’s experience. Concern for the animal must be part of the offering. Otherwise, the Temple service would be a denial of God’s care for all His creation. Service of God can never be at the cost of our consideration for any creation, man or animal.
We must consider what it is like for that person or animal to be suffering. We have to imagine it. This does not mean to imagine what you would feel like if someone was doing it to you, but to picture what it is like for that person to be in that situation. In other words, there are often times when we perform an act of chessed, or kindness, because we are shaken by the possibility of the same thing happening to us. True compassion is to feel what the other person is experiencing. It may be a subtle difference, but the reason it is important for us to practice is that we have to understand that the only way to appreciate how God relates to us is to act as God does. God doesn’t help us because “it could happen to me too.” Obviously, it cannot. So when God helps us, He is saying, “I care about you. That is all it is, I care about you. My compassion is purely and solely for you.” That is a tremendous expression of love and attachment, and the only way to begin to experience Godliness is to act it. In order to have a true relationship with the Almighty, we must first learn how God perceives us. Compassion is the key.