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From Suffering, Compassion
Wed, 06/04/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi David Wolpe
Rabbi David Wolpe

Virgil’s Dido declares, “I have known sorrow — and learned to help the sad.” In that simple declaration is much of the secret of human wisdom. Our own experience should move through an internal sifting process of learning and growth, and school us into a means for helping others.    

Abraham, who is exiled from his land, learns that his descendants will be exiled from theirs. So he transmits a tradition that will enable them to endure centuries of wandering. Moses is forced to make his way to Midian and create a life, so he is well prepared to lead a people who must find their way home. Ruth, who has lost her husband, is a comfort to Naomi, who has lost her sons. Jeremiah, having prophesied disaster, provides hope for the people who must endure it. In later generations Maimonides, fleeing from the land of his youth because of persecution, will offer gentle counsel to communities of persecuted Jews.

In Jewish communities throughout the world, Holocaust survivors are among the leading contributors to Jewish charities. From their unspeakable sorrow and pain they have learned to lift others. Such strength and wisdom reminds us how often suffering is the school of compassion.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.


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Thank you for this. I just attended March of the Living and my survivor was such a thriver/survivor/ and hero. She held my arm as I was crying through the death camps and says "he didn't get us, we survived, I'm here and you're here." She was my strength. Faigie.. I love you.

Two days ago I attended a wonderful ceremony at a little church in the Netherlands. The deceased was a 72 year old teacher. The ceremony was held in 3 languages, Aramaic, Arabic and Dutch. My friend , whose father was diagnosed with gastric cancer in December 2013, is a young family doctor. Her parents met and married in 1972 in Baghdad. They are members of the Chaldaic community. The eulogy was read by a handsome young and talented Dutch psychologist, my friend's brother in law. The small community of around 100 Chaldeans, mostly old people, recited " our father in heaven" in Aramaic that I could largely understand. It sounded so close to Hebrew. To see these peaceful "ethnic people" of Iraq, so far from their beloved " Beth Nahrain", burry an old man on a grey rainy day, made me cry. I shared their quiet sadness and coming together in love. The smile of their handsome young priest , who went around shaking hands with everyone while offering condolences in 3 languages, made me see the courage and immense strength of my big wandering family. It is imaginable that at some point my father's Jewish ancestors where living in one community with my friend's ancestors in Baghdad. We got scattered from "Beth Nahren", but we still came together at this ceremony , so far away in time and space. We shared a heavy sorrow that healed us. We are all one.

Thank you for this. I have always ( in my adult life) felt that sharing my personal pain and struggles , when appropriate, can be a help to others suffering a current similar challenge. Thank you for confirming my conviction.

The desire to be free of sorrow is a desire shared even by enemies. I guess it's always nice to have something in common.

I never really looked at my struggles as a catalyst to my future of kindness and service to others. It is a comforting idea, and I thank you for helping me see how my personal misfortunes have shaped me into the person I am today.