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Shema: Rav Schwab: Overwhelming Compassion

The 14th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Shimon (ben Yehuda) Schwab (1908-1995). “You have shown us great and overwhelming compassion.” The word “Chemla,” meaning compassion, appears twice in the Torah. The first is when the daughter of Pharaoh saw the little baby Moshe in the basket, and her emotional response is described as, “and she pitied him (Exodus 2:6).” The second time it is found in connection with the law referring to one who attempts to convince others to worship idols. If he is convicted of this crime and is consequently sentenced to death, the Torah forbids the judges to look for mitigating circumstances which might make it possible for him to evade the death penalty. The Torah expresses this law as, “you shall not be compassionate nor conceal him (Deuteronomy 13:9).”


In both of these examples “Chamal” is used to express compassion, in which the compassion replaces the judgment.

When the daughter of Pharaoh saved Moshe, she acted contrary to the prevailing Egyptian law. Therefore, her act of saving him is described as, “Chamal,” meaning, she changed they law to compassion.

Similarly, when a judge attempts to allow leniency regarding the death sentence of one who induces others to idol worship, contrary to the Torah law which does not allow for compassion in this case, the Torah warns the judge: do not have, “Chemla.”

Similarly, in our prayer, “great and overwhelming compassion,” means as follows: Notwithstanding the fact that we may not have deserved God’s compassion, because there were periods in Jewish history when large segments of our nation neglected the study of Torah, and much of it was forgotten by large sectors of the Jewish people, nevertheless, instead of treating us with Judgment for the neglect of Torah study, God, in Is abundant compassion, changed the Judgment to Compassion. He did this by providing our people with great Torah scholars, and the leaders in every generation who kept the Torah alive throughout our history. (Rav Schwab on Prayer)

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