All of us were shocked to hear of the tragedy in Boston a few days ago. Two bombs exploding. Bodies torn apart. Three people killed. More than a hundred wounded.
Some of us wept and could not be torn away from the news. Others of us sighed, said “What a terrible world,” and moved on.
Were those who wept over-reacting? Were those who didn’t callous? What should our response be, when strangers die in a far-away place?
The Torah, in this week’s reading, bids us to love the stranger “for you, too, were strangers in Egypt.”
Treat strangers with love because you, too, were once strangers. How sensitive … how forward thinking! Yet these fine words were conceived not in the modern age, but some 3,300 years ago!
But did you catch their profound implication?
We usually think of compassion as a righteous act of mercy … as being sensitive to those less fortunate … right? Yet, here, the Torah teaches us that this is not exactly the meaning of true compassion. True compassion is empathy. We are only truly compassionate when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, realizing that we both are (or could be) in the same situation.
Indeed, compassion for others is part and parcel of compassion for yourself. Love the stranger … because you, too, were a stranger.
True compassion does not allow us to go merrily along when someone else is suffering. It does not allow us to get on a high horse from where we condescend to notice those less fortunate. No, absolutely not. We areall on the same level. We are all strangers, and by loving a stranger, we earn the right to be loved as well.