The Journey to Unity – 172
The Mitzvah to Emulate the Divine Compassion:
“And you shall walk in His ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9).
“The Compassionate One is good to all, and His compassion is on all His
works” (Psalm 145:9)
Dear Friends,
As human beings created in the Divine image, we have the potential to
emulate the Divine ways; moreover, there is a mitzvah which calls upon us to
develop this potential to the best of our human ability – the mitzvah to
walk in His ways. Maimonides, in his explanation of this mitzvah, cites the
following teaching of our sages:
“Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is called Compassionate, so should you
be compassionate; just as He is called Gracious, so should you be gracious;
just as He is called Righteous, so should you be righteous; just as He is
called Chasid – the One Who does lovingkindness – so should you be a
chasid.” (Book of Mitzvos, #8, based on the Sifri, Deuteronomy 11:22)
According to a classical work on the mitzvos known as “Sefer Charedim”
(4:1), the prohibition against tzaar baalei chayim is actually a branch of
the mitzvah to walk in the ways of the Compassionate One, for the Divine
benevolence and compassion extends to all creatures, as it is written (Psalm 145:9), “The Compassionate One is good to all, and His compassion is on all
His works.” (Cited in “Nefesh Kol Chai”)
We are to emulate the Divine benevolence and love to all creatures. This
spiritual consciousness is the legacy which we received from our forefathers
and foremothers, and the following story can serve as an example:
After his wife, Sarah, had passed away, Avraham sent his servant Eliezer to
Charan where his relatives lived, in order to find a suitable wife for
Avraham’s son, Yitzchak (Isaac). Eliezer arrived in Charan, and he caused
the camels to kneel down outside the city, opposite a well of water, at the
time of evening – a time when the young women who usually draw the water
come out. Eliezer remembered how Avraham and Sarah taught people to emulate
the Divine love and compassion; thus, he understood that the wife for Isaac
would have to be a loving and compassionate person. He therefore offered the
following prayer to the Compassionate One:
“O Compassionate One, God of my master Avraham, may you so arrange it for me
this day, and do lovingkindness to my master Avraham. See, I stand here by
the spring of water and the daughters of the townspeople come out to draw
the water. Let it be that the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please tip your jug so
I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also give water to your
camels’ – her will you have chosen for your servant, for Yitzchak; and may
I know through her that you have done lovingkindness with my master.”
(Genesis 24:12-14)
“Her will you have chosen” Rashi explains: “She is fitting for him in that
she performs acts of lovingkindness, and she is therefore worthy to enter
the household of Avraham.”
Rabbi Elie Munk, in his biblical commentary known as “The Call of the
Torah,” makes the following observation regarding the test of character that
Eliezer chose: He would only ask for water for himself; however, she would
offer to also give water to the camels; thus, her extension of
lovingkindness to the animals would be further proof of her goodness.
And so it happened. The young Rivkah (Rebecca) approached the well, and
Eliezer asked her for some water. She gave him some water, and she then drew
water for all of his camels! When Eliezer later asked her if there was a
place in her father’s house to stay, she replied, “There is even plenty of
straw and feed with us, as well as a place to lodge” (Genesis 24:25). Rabbi
Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on this verse, writes:
“Here too, Rivkah’s fine qualities stand out. She is attentive to the needs
of the animals, whose thirst she has just quenched. Once they have had their
fill of water, they should be fed. Her sensitivity towards the animals is
still activated and animated.”
She took responsibility for the welfare of these animals as if they were her
own, and her behavior, explains Rabbi Hirsch, is in the spirit of the
following verse: “A righteous person understands the feelings of his
animals” (Proverbs 12:10).
Rivkah was emulating the ways of the Compassionate One, as it is written,
“He gives nourishment to all flesh, for His lovingkindness endures forever”
(Psalm 136:25). As the classical commentator, Radak, explains, the nurturing
of the Compassionate One extends to “each and every creature.”
Many centuries later, when Rivkah’s descendants, the People of Israel, would
be exiled from the Land of Israel, many of them would settle in countries in
Europe which had a colder climate than they were used to. The halachic work
“Nefesh Kol Chai” mentions that the activists among the People of Israel
would make sure to feed the birds during the freezing weather, when due to
the snow, the normal supply of food for the birds was not available.
The stories about the sages who led the People of Israel during the painful
exile reveal that these spiritual leaders stressed the importance of
emulating the Divine compassion for all creatures, and the following story
told by a disciple of a great Chassidic Rebbe can serve as an example:
Once our holy master, the Stropkover Rebbe (R. Avraham Shalom Halberstam,
1857-1940) visited the city of Ujhely, Hungary, staying in the home of Rabbi
Lemel Schvartz. In the morning, after a long night of Torah study, the Rebbe
asked R. Lemel’s son, R. Mordechai, for some grain to feed the chickens and
geese. The Rebbe explained: “One should emulate the Creator, Whose ‘mercy is
upon all His works.’ It is an especially great mitzvah to show compassion to
the creatures of the Holy One, Blessed be He. By doing so, one also elicits
God’s kindness, causing it to shine upon Israel.
“Another benefit of feeding animals is that it strengthens one’s compassion.
By doing so the first thing in the morning, it becomes easier to show
compassion throughout the day.”
Thus did our master conduct himself, feeding the birds a number of times
during his stay. (Cited in “The Vision of Eden”)
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was a noted sage and biblical commentator of the
19th century, and we have cited some of his teachings in this series. He and
his family lived in Germany, which had cold, snowy winters; thus, Rabbi
Hirsch’s wife would put food on her window sill every morning for the
sparrows who gathered there. After her passing, Rabbi Hirsch continued this
practice until his last days. When he was on his final sickbed, he told his
sons not to forget to take care of the birds. (“Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch”
by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman – ArtScroll)
A “yahrtzeit” is the anniversary of someone’s passing, and I am writing this
letter on the eve of the “yahrtzeit” of Rabbi Hirsch the 27th of Teves,
which begins on Thursday evening, January 26th. It is therefore fitting to
conclude this letter with a teaching from Rabbi Hirsch regarding the mitzvah
to emulate the Divine ways:
“Love is the activity which seeks unasked the welfare and benefit of others.
It was love which God desired to be your highest mission, your mark of
perfection, and as an example which should constantly spur you to further
progress He set before you not a human being…He set Himself before you as
a model and said: ‘Follow after Me in love.’ ” (Horeb, Chapter 72)
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See Below)
Related Teachings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch:
His first published work, ”The Nineteen Letters,” serves as an excellent
introduction to the Torah’s universal vision. It was written in the form of
letters to a young Jewish intellectual who was alienated from his spiritual
roots. In this work, he writes:
“Everything bestowed upon you – mind, body, fellowman, material goods, other
creatures, every talent and every power – all are merely means to action, to
further and to safeguard everything. With love and with justice! The earth
was not created as a gift to you – you have been given to the earth, to
treat it with respectful consideration, as God’s earth, and everything on it
as God’s creation, as your fellow creature, to be respected, loved and
helped to attain its purpose according to God’s Will.” (Letter Four)
Rabbi Hirsch also states that ”Judaism, correctly conceived and conveyed,
constitutes a bond of love and justice encompassing all creatures” (Letter
Nineteen). “The Nineteen Letters” is published by Feldheim: )
Hazon – Our Universal Vision:

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