Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that in order to have true compassion, a person must have da’as, which means an awareness of G-d (Likutey Moharan II:8,2).

There is one more step, however, in the process of acquiring true compassion. In order to gain da’as, we must live a life of holiness, for the purification of our consciousness depends upon our efforts to overcome our lower desires; from a consciousness that is purified comes genuine compassion.

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If the consciousness is not purified, however, the forces of unholiness may attach themselves to the holy trait of compassion. When this happens, Rebbe Nachman explains, the forces of unholiness may draw the compassion to themselves. In doing so, they make their own activities (which are the height of cruelty) appear as if they are compassionate. As a result, even the compassion that remains in the realm of holiness can be blemished, and it begins to look as if it is tainted by cruelty.

Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter explains that we can see this illustrated in the mitzvah of rebuke. When we admonish someone who is involved in sin, we are actually showing them the greatest compassion. If it is a mitzvah to save a fellow Jew from drowning in a river, how much more of a mitzvah is it to save a soul from drowning in a world of falsehood. By admonishing such a person, we can bring them to the eternal life of Torah and mitzvos.

Yet the forces of evil twist this around completely and make our words of concern seem cruel to the very person we are trying to help. Or, if we are unworthy of giving rebuke, a trace of cruelty from the side of unholiness can enter our voices, and then our words cannot be effective at all.

In another discourse, Rebbe Nachman writes about atheists and “scientists” who deny the existence of spiritual realities, and claim the world is only a product of “natural forces” (Likutey Moharan II:4,6). Their teachings conceal G-d, and hence they are devoid of wisdom, for true wisdom reveals G-d. And since their intellect is the very opposite of da’as, it leads to the opposite of compassion. When you destroy a Jew’s faith and belief in G-d, you detach them from the very source of their being, and when a Jew is severed from their connection to G-d, you kill them spiritually. This is the worst kind of cruelty.

May Hashem help us to acquire da’as and thereby be worthy of compassion in its truest form.

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Rabbi Nosson Rossman is a rabbinic field representative for the Orthodox Union. He can be reached at nathanlrossman@gmail.com.