Kol Ami — The Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community
“The best way of breaking down barriers between people or communities is through simple, unforced acts of kindness. One act can undo years of estrangement.” “Acts of kindness never die. They linger in the memory, giving life to other acts in return.” (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks)
“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.” (George Washington Carver)
Two possible exercises for the day, choose one or both: Watch a young boy lovingly help an elderly woman up stairs (see https://youtu.be/GzlIzALMb9o). AND/OR Consider the ways in which you express sympathy or compassion. Ask yourself: Is my compassion warm, tender, and loving, or might it come across as pity? Is my sympathy ever condescending or patronizing? Even if my intention is otherwise, might others perceive it as such?
“Greatness, even for God, certainly for us, is not to be above people but to be with them, hearing their silent cry, sharing their distress, bringing comfort to the distressed and dignity to the deprived. The message of the Hebrew Bible is that civilizations survive not by strength but by how they respond to the weak; not by wealth but by how they care for the poor; not by power but by their concern for the powerless. What renders a culture invulnerable is the compassion it shows to the vulnerable.” (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks)
“In compassion lies the world’s true strength.” (Gautama Buddha)
“A heart full of love and compassion is the main source of inner strength, willpower, happiness, and mental tranquility.” (Dalai Lama XIV)
Two possible exercises for the day, choose one or both: Read Maya Angelou’s powerful poem “Continue” (see https://sacompassion.net/continue-a-poem-by-maya-angelou/). In which areas lie your strengths? In which areas would you like to be stronger?
AND/OR Watch “Lost in Motion” by Canadian dancer/choreographer Guillaume Côté (see https://youtu.be/E-lfoMk12x4 ). What tremendous strength is needed to create such a work of beauty! And how incredibly beautiful is the strength demonstrated in this work of art!
As you read these reflections, listen to the beautiful music best-known as the “Meditation from Thaïs” (see https://youtu.be/NLhvMgucWns):
“The spiral of compassion has no beginning or end. Begin where you are. Use breath to bring softness into yourself and release it into the world. Empathy in each moment, for each moment.” (Claudia Hill, from Omer 2019: Week 3 by Ritualwell)
“Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.” (Oprah Winfrey)
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” (Sylvia Plath, from The Bell Jar)
Two possible exercises for the day, choose one or both: Read Joy Harjo’s beautiful poem “Remember” (see https://emergencemagazine.org/poem/remember/).
AND/OR Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Focus on your breath for 9 minutes – roughly the amount of time that police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, preventing him from breathing properly. As a step toward increasing your awareness of the need to eliminate racial injustice in policing, allow your breathing to become more shallow – with full recognition that you may go back to breathing more deeply at any time that you feel at all uncomfortable!
“The natural inclination of the heart is to seek balance and truth, to be in harmony, to delight in beauty. And it is so easy to go astray, to lose our balance as confusion clouds our perceptions. It takes practice to return again and again to beauty and love.” (Rabbi Yael Levy)
“Expressing compassion requires presence of mind, body and soul. Sustaining compassion takes balance, courage and strength. May we nurture these qualities to allow compassion to endure.” (Rabbi Roni Handler)
“I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” (William Faulkner)
Exercise for the Day: Look at the beautiful photographs of 20 persevering trees at https://www.trueactivist.com/10-resilient-trees-that-refuse-to-die-no-matter-what/.
“Philanthropy is commendable but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. )
“One should not allow the fact that one is able to give money to others to allow one to feel superior. The Talmud teaches that nothing stays the same; the one who is rich today may be poor tomorrow and the one who is poor today may be rich tomorrow. If God has been generous to you, being compassionate and giving to others is simply doing what you were put here to do. Haughtiness in giving is unseemly.” (Rabbi Barry Leff, The Neshamah Center)
Exercise for the day: Examine Rambam’s ladder (see https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ eight-levels-of-charitable-giving). What level are you on? What level would you like to be on?
While receiving AEI’s highest honor, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks distinguished between two rival views of society derived from his exegesis of I Samuel 8. A social contract creates a government, while a covenant creates a society:
“In a contract, you make an exchange, which is to the benefit of the self-interest of each. … A covenant isn’t like that. It’s more like a marriage than an exchange. In a covenant, two or more parties each respecting the dignity and integrity of the other come together in a bond of loyalty and trust to do together what neither can do alone. A covenant isn’t about me; it’s about us. A covenant isn’t about interests; it’s about identity. A covenant isn’t about me, the voter, or me, the consumer, but about all of us together. Or in that lovely key phrase of American politics, it’s about ‘We, the people.’”
“Radical empathy, on the other hand, means putting in the work to educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another’s experience from their perspective, not as we imagine we would feel. Radical empathy is not about you and what you think you would do in a situation you have never been in and perhaps never will. It is the kindred connection from a place of deep knowing that opens your spirit to the pain of another as they perceive it.” (Isabel Wilkerson, from Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents)
Exercise for the day: Make a connection to do something outside your comfort zone.
“There are rare but powerful instances when we awaken to the beauty of each part of our lives and the complex but meaningful whole of all of these experiences put together. This coherence of vision is the essence of Malchut of Tiferet.” (Devon Apier, from Omer Day 21: Majesty of Beauty by Ritualwell)
“’Enough’ is a feast.” (Buddhist proverb)
Two possible exercises for the day, choose one or both: Listen to “Ode to Dirt” by Sharon Olds (see https://youtu.be/gW_sSwsX-Ug).
AND/OR Make a gratitude list.