January 25, 2005


The title of this post, "rachmones," is a Yiddish word that means "compassion." It is a concept that is central to Judaism, and a guiding principle in Israel's struggle to survive. And, in the face of the "blog drama" about which Linda wrote below, it is a concept that I am compelled to write about perhaps in the hope that those involved in that drama can learn something about those whom they would support, namely, the citizens of Israel.

Rachmones does not prevent the destruction of one's enemy.

Rachmones does not mean turn the other cheek when struck.

Rachmones does not mean that one cannot, should not, kill in the act of self-defense or the defense of other, innocent human beings.

Rachmones does mean that one does not take joy in those acts, should they be necessary.

Rachmones does not mean that one should gloat in victory.

Rachmones means that one extends a hand of help, compassion and pity to one's enemies in the face of their defeat.

Rachmones means that one cries for the little girl whose parents are dead at the hands of American soldiers in Iraq.

Rachmones means that one does not try to justify the deaths by citing the number of Americans dead at the hands of the insurgents.

Rachmones means that one does one's best to preserve one's humanity in the face of insurmountable odds or the most vile of situations.

Vengeance is mine, sayeth the L-rd your G-d.

At Pesach, we are reminded that the Israelites were admonished by G-d for showing joy at the drowning of the Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea.

"Rejoice not", sayeth the L-ord your G-d, "for these are my children, too".

UPDATE: I'm hijacking Mark's post because I want what I have to say to go in the body of this post instead of a comment.

I think most people's idea of compassion is giving those who you are offering the compassion everything that they want. Here's Webster's definition:

:sympathetic consciousness of others' distress
together with a desire to alleviate it

You may have the desire to alleviate others' distress, but should you attempt to alleviate it in all cases? Let's say, for example, you have a female friend who is involved with a real asshole. You know she'd be better off without him and that long-term it would alleviate many, many of her problems. She turns to you and says, "I love him so much. I know this is a difficult relationship, but I really want to try to make this work." Let's add that you're pretty sure he's not in it for the long haul. What is compassionate in this scenario? When is honesty compassionless?

It seems to me that the word “compassion” is thrown around inappropriately as much as the word “love.” Those of us who have love in our life know that it’s not always roses, candlelight and chocolate. Love can be hard work at times and certainly shouldn’t be accepting of bullshit. If that’s true, and love is the highest power, what makes us think that compassion should be that which makes someone feel good, in light of something that is obviously not good? Thus, why can’t compassion be a slap in the face…when a slap in the face is warranted?

I was once described as being arrogant. More importantly, this person believed that arrogance was confidence with the absence of compassion. Do I really lack compassion? Well, if compassion is defined as making everyone happy despite the fact that there are compelling circumstances to the contrary, yes. I lack compassion in that instance and I make no apologies for such actions. If compassion is defined as it states in Webster’s, as the sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it, no. I don’t lack compassion in that instance at all.

Do any of you watch American Idol? Do you ever wonder why the loved ones of those people, who are obviously horrid, but audition anyway, haven’t said ANYTHING to them about their lack of talent? What’s more compassionate…not telling them the truth and having Simon berate and bitch slap them on public television, or telling them that you don’t think their performance is quite up to par and that you feel they need to fine tune it a bit more before auditioning? Which one is really honoring the desire to alleviate distress? Call me crazy, but a lot of people opt for not telling the person how horrible they are because they are not comfortable with being honest. But those same people would call their actions compassionate. Kind of odd, isn’t it?

This has been on my mind a whole lot lately because of some support I’ve been receiving from my best friend in the way of honesty. They’ve not been the nicest things to hear, but they have been compassionate unlike most people could offer me in this world. I’m glad that this post touched upon alternate views of compassion so that I could express this.

Thanks Mark.

Oh, and one final thing...doesn't rachmones sound like cohones? What if compassion was defined as having the balls to be authentic? Do you think the world would be a better place?

Mark's brain blurted out at 11:52 AM
Consciousness (3)

Great post - both of you. Lots of food for thought. I would have answered differently several years ago, but I have come to believe that sometimes you do have to be cruel to be kind.

Posted by: Gail at January 25, 2005 06:01 PM

"Oh, and one final thing...doesn't rachmones sound like cahones? What if compassion was defined as having the balls to be authentic? Do you think the world would be a better place?"

Yah, shoor, you betcha!!!

Posted by: Mark at January 25, 2005 08:04 PM

i think it means feeling hurt when anyone anywhere feels hurt. no other people has a wailing wall for a national monument. there is so much to cry about. "wear mercy as a medal about your heart," something like this in proverbs. in our societies of grab and greed, the exercise of rachmones needs to protected. dissent provides it with an umbrella.

Posted by: daz at February 7, 2005 12:28 AM
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