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Feeling Another’s Pain
Tue, 07/02/2013 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
David Wolpe
David Wolpe

In high school we read “Black Like Me,” an account of how John Howard Griffin, a reporter, had his skin artificially darkened so he might better understand the predicament of blacks in the South in the late 1950s. Can we understand another if we have not been in his position? Does a member of a ruling caste understand the humiliations of the oppressed, or does someone who has lived in difficulties understand the seductions and possibilities of wealth or power?

Empathy is vital but also limited. Judaism prescribes laws for things like tzedakah because even if you do not understand the poor you must help them. Empathy is imperfect and responsibility cannot be based on identification alone. Still trying to put oneself in another’s shoes is a critical human capacity. The discovery of “mirror neurons” — that our brains mimic the emotional reactions of others — reminds us of the place of empathy in human life.

When Franklin Roosevelt visited a military hospital in Hawaii, he asked the Secret Service to wheel him very slowly through the amputee wards. He insisted on going past each individual bed. The president wanted to display himself and his polio stricken legs to young men who would have to face the same bitterness. To know another feels our pain is part way to healing.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at

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I am printing this one out and mailing it to my mom.

I certainly can relate to this as I was seriously hurt in a bus accident in Athens Greece. The doctors said that they wanted to amputate my left leg it was totally shattered & the muscle torn off the bone.I said nooo way are you going to amputate on me!! they told me I would never walk again.This really upset me & made me mad. I can only say that out of misery pain & suffering comes a Huge Better understanding with God I prayed & read knitted & learned patience & Most of all gained alot of Faith in God!! It took me only 10 years to get to walk again in spite of all the amputation threats & you will never walk again ever. Well alot of prayers & my total trust & faith has helped me hugely this I will only be eternally Grateful to Gods answer to my prayers!! ijust recently did a double total hip replacement operation which has been very successful I thank God every day for his biggest Blessing to me one thankful Susan Elizabeth Hobel truly Blessed & has her life back again walking & appy that I can get around even better then before. God does do miricales believe me on this!!! Love & Faith