“Father of Compassion, favor Zion with your goodness”
think about it. at the beginning of the Torah reading service on shabbat morning we exultantly say “who is like You?” and then ” You are master, You were master, You will be master for eternity…G’d will give Israel strength…and bless his People with peace” and then suddenly the niggun gets darker, almost pleading “av harachamim…”
but wait. this sounds like a petitionary prayer….on shabbat? nu?
if ever known in your life, if even once, you know why compassion is so important that we crave it even during the otherwise peace and contentment of shabbat. for the sefirah of tiferet, ‘compassion, harmony, balance, beauty’ is on the mainline from haShem, the first full station stop in the central trunk of the tree. tiferet is the sure-footed balancing of chesed and gevurah, neither too free nor too tight, but just right.
the hebrew rachamim is powerfully associated with death in many prayers…the kel molei rachamim….the full av harachamim….compassion is what one needs in hard times when the tendency is too easily to go gevurah (why did this one have to die? it isn’t fair), or too easily toward the loving-kind (it is a terrible thing…i know exactly how you feel…i lost my uncle bernie when i was 6…). the prayer for compassion is a prayer for return to harmony in life.
if ever balanced, if ever truly living compassion toward others, you will ever strive to get back to it when you tilt to extremes…..we know center when we feel it. and we know the divine in ourselves when feel empathy for the situation of another AND also know just what to do…not too soft…not too hard…just right. not too much good inclination, and not too much bad inclination.
the kabbalists teach that the central sefirot tend ever so slightly toward the right-side of the tree, a gravitational sort of attraction, so tiferet naturally ranges toward chesed. but the tending has no fixed point, so maybe it is more like the probability function….a region closer to chesed in which compassion is likely to be found.
and that feeds into another important aspect of tiferet: the readiness is all. to be compassionate, one must be ready to do what is needed in the situation. sometimes, as when visiting the sick, it is to speak and give cheer; other times, as when visiting the mourner, it may be to sit in silence. the compassionate jew is one who is ready and nimble.
mussar for tiferet she b’chesed
tiferet-chesed with another….bein adam l’chaveiro visit the sick with a smile. smile upon the well. “greet every human with a cheerful and pleasant countenance” (Pirkei Avot 1:15), for it is the basic compassion.
tiferet-chesed with yourself…bein adam l’atzmo this week we are all foregoing chametz as a matter of mitzvah and religious practice. but as a special practice today, forego something else in empathy with others who simply don’t have.
kabbalah for tiferet she b’chesed
in assiyah….the world of doing/complation these days, we take something like pride in being multi-taskers. but research is beginning to show that multi-tasking is too often a matter of shortchanging everything…it is not necessarily more productive. we end up astounded that we finish everything….but what if i asked you to be compassionate in all the many things you are doing? would that interfering with the “getting things done”? consider which should matter more….and be sure you multi-task something just for you into your routine today….to keep yourself balanced, for from there you can extend harmony outward.
in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation worry is anathema to compassion. worry is by definition out of balance, and usually a cramping in gevurah. we parents give youngins timeouts to get things back in manageable range. why do we think it won’t work for us as well? go ahead, give yourself a timeout–you deserve it! meditate on the centrality of compassion in G’d, and see yourself as a potential piece of the expression of G’d’s compassion here in Creation. are you in harmony with creation?
in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation r’ kantrowitz teaches us that we sometimes know compassion best in our friendships. friends can observe flaws in each other and help correct them with compassion–and meet a compassionate response! this is the full beauty of tiferet in a way. so remember a time when you were a really good friend and knew exactly what to do and say because you were deeply empathetic in your feelings and hopes for your friend. now what would it take to extend that to others?
in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition tiferet can be in the bond of mates in love making. it can be in the cooldown following exercise. chazal took time to prepare before prayer so as to be in tiferet before uttering a word….and they remained silent after prayer for a time to hold onto the compassion that had been given them through prayer. find your time for ‘afterglow’ and use it to instill balance from which you can live the rest of the day.
kinyan 3 of 48 ways to acquire Torah
Arichat S’fatayim….Speak-Teaching the Vilna Gaon would stress the learning of Mishlei (Proverbs) in his first year students at yeshiva specifically so that they would be able to go out and teach others. and he would require that they teach orally both in reading the text and in explaining it. speaking what you learn is the balance between learning on your own and being able to hear, truly hear what is being taught. hence, taught the Gaon, the learning of Mishlei brings forth 2 gifts: a gift of adam l’chaveiro when each student goes out to share and reteach what is learned, and a gift of G’d l’adam for the Holy One is inspired by the character improvements that the learning brings to the students and responds immediately from his rachamim to assist all who teach and all who study. the character improvements are a surefire way to awaken G’d’s compassion! So speak up and teach!