The Hebrew word for Empathy is Rachamim which is derived from the word "rechem," meaning womb. Empathy is this idea of our ability to connect with others on a deep and nurturing level, similar to the bond between a mother and her child.
Judaism teaches us to practice empathy towards all people, regardless of their background, and to strive for kindness and compassion. The biblical commandment of "ve'ahavta l're'acha kamocha" (Leviticus 19:18) instructs us to love our fellow human beings as ourselves. This teaches us that just as we aspire to be understanding and compassionate towards ourselves, we should extend the same empathy and care to others.
In order to cultivate empathy towards others, Judaism advises us to put ourselves in their shoes and try to imagine their experiences and feelings. The Talmud tells us, "Do not judge another person until you have stood in his place" (Pirkei Avot 2:5), highlighting the importance of understanding and empathy in our interactions. Moreover, Judaism also emphasizes self-compassion and self-care. In order to empathize with others, we must first learn to empathize with ourselves. Taking care of our own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being enables us to truly understand and support others. Ultimately, empathy is a cornerstone of Jewish ethics and serves as a guiding principle for our interactions with others. By practicing empathy towards both ourselves and others, we can cultivate a more compassionate and caring world.
5 Tips for Practicing Empathy Towards Ourselves
Cultivate self-compassion and learn to engage with others from a place of understanding and kindness.
Acknowledge your emotions. It's important to recognize and accept your emotions without judgement. Allow yourself to feel what you're feeling, whether it's sadness, anger, or frustration, and give yourself permission to experience those emotions fully.
Practice self-care. Taking care of our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being is crucial for cultivating empathy towards ourselves. Engage in activities that bring you joy and nourishment, such as exercising, practicing mindfulness, spending time with loved ones, or immersing yourself in activities that align with your values.
Cultivate self-compassion. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would extend to a friend who is struggling. Be gentle with yourself when faced with challenges, setbacks, or mistakes. Remind yourself that it is through these experiences that you grow and learn.
Practice self-reflection. Set aside regular time for self-reflection, whether through journaling, meditation, or simply quiet contemplation. Ask yourself what you need in the present moment and what steps you can take to meet those needs. Self-reflection helps us gain insight into our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, allowing for greater self-awareness.
Seek support. Don't hesitate to reach out to trusted friends, family members, or professionals when you need support. Sharing your struggles, fears, and hopes with others can provide a fresh perspective, comfort, and validation. Sometimes just knowing we're not alone in our experiences can be immensely healing.
In Judaism, the value of empathy towards ourselves is reflected in the commandment found in Vayikra (Leviticus 19:18) "Ve'ahavta l're'akha kamokha"-"Love your neighbor as yourself."
This verse highlights the importance of developing a healthy sense of self-love and kindness, as it serves as the foundation for how we relate to and treat others.
And remember that whatever you gave the day today, it was your best, and that's enough.