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Parashat Va'era - Empathy
Jeremiah Weeps, Chagall

The Torah of Empathy...

Further thoughts on Parashat Va'era

by John J. Parsons

Our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Va'era) begins:

    God (אֱלהִים) spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am the LORD (יהוה). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai (אל שׁדּי), but by My Name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:2-3).

The Hebrew word va'era (וארא) means "I appeared" and has a numerical value of 208, the same value as the name Yitzchak (יצחק). This suggests a connection between the Akedah (the sacrifice of Isaac) and the redemption (גְּאֻלָּה) of YHVH that culminated in the original Passover ritual given in Egypt.  The story of yetziat mitzraim (יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם) - the Exodus from Egypt - reveals the glory of God's great empathy for His people... How much more do we experience God's great empathy through the sacrificial life of His Son, Yeshua?

There is an old Chassidic story of two men sitting and enjoying a drink together.  One of them then says to the other, "You know, you're my best friend.  I really love you, brother!"  The other man responds, "Oh yeah?  If you really love me, tell me where I hurt..."

The point of this simple story is that we can't really say we love someone without taking the time to know them -- and that means knowing how they suffer. Most of us are suffering, of course, but are we able to transcend our own pain to genuinely empathize with others?  Conversely, how many people do we trust enough to to confide our own pains and heartaches?  The Law of Messiah (תוֹרת המשׁיח) is to bear one another's burdens (τα βαρη, "weights," Gal. 6:2), and that means making ourselves vulnerable -- and making room inside our hearts for the vulnerability of others.  James tells us that personal healing comes from confessing outwardly (εξομολογεισθε) our sins (τας αμαρτιας) to one another so that we may be healed (James 5:16). Of course it's humbling to share our sins, our failures, and our hurts to another, but without an audience for the inner voice of our pain, we suffer all the more...

If someone loves us, they will know "where we hurt"; and if we love them, we will know where they hurt, too. This same principle can also be applied to our relationship to Yeshua... We take comfort that Yeshua sticks closer to us than a brother, interceding on our behalf and "knowing where we hurt." But if we say that we love him, are we are not claiming that we know him and "where he hurts?" Does Yeshua suffer today?  The Apostle Paul wrote: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col. 1:24). What is "lacking in Christ's afflictions" is our present sacrifice for the sake of others... Yeshua hungers with those who are hungry, thirsts with those who are thirsty, feels loneliness with those who are abandoned, shivers with those who are cold, weeps with those who are forlorn, is imprisoned with those who are incarcerated, is sick with those who are ill, and so on (Matt. 25:31-ff). Yeshua feels the pain of even the "least of these my brothers." This is where he hurts, chaverim...

The essential difference between the righteous and the unrighteous is revealed in their response shown to those in need. After all, on the Day of Judgment, both the righteous and the unrighteous will account for their choices in light of the selfsame needy and pain-riddled world. The destiny of each person will be determined by whether he or she took the time to genuinely engage the suffering of others...  May the LORD help us to share His heart and passion for a lost and hurting world.

Addendum: Time is short, chaverim... We cannot afford the "luxury" of resentment to dwell within our hearts any longer.  Very soon the wheat will be separated from the chaff.... Yeshua is coming soon! If you haven't experienced the miracle of new life in the Messiah, I appeal to you to turn to Him and ask Him for the gift of salvation today.

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