Updated: Jul 13
Compassionate Justice Leads to Self-Compassion: Parshat Devarim
This week’s Torah portion Deuteronomy, or Devarim, means words.
Moses gives a speech to the people of Israel before they enter the Land of Israel without him.
He talks about justice and appointing impartial judges to help him decide cases between the people.“Hear the causes between your brothers and judge righteously… Listen to small and great alike, for judgment belongs to G-d”
What does that mean? Judgment (משפט) goes together with righteousness (צדק).
Tzedek is difficult to translate– charity, righteousness, integrity, equity, fairness, but it’s more than strict justice.
The Rambam( Maimonides), says justice is giving everyone their due -it’s not charity. It’s the decent thing to do
Tzedek or justice must be reinforced with compassion.
Justice combined with compassion can create a more fair and humane society.
We are commemorating Tisha B’Av, a national day of mourning for the destruction of the first and second Temples this Sunday.
The reason for the destruction of the Second Temple was due to senseless hatred. In other words, compassion was lacking and people ignored those in need and judged people unfairly.
Have we learned our lesson? Are we still to blame for this today?
How can we cultivate a more compassionate society?
How can we treat people more kindly?
What about mindful self-compassion?
We’re often pretty good at demonstrating compassion for others, but not so much for ourselves.
According to Kristin Neff, researcher and expert on self-compassion,
"Self-compassion is kindness toward the self, which entails being gentle, supportive, and understanding: Rather than harshly judging oneself for personal shortcomings, the self is offered warmth and unconditional acceptance. In other words, being kind to ourselves in good times and bad, in sickness and in health—and even when we make mistakes."
To build a practice of mindful self-compassion takes time and requires, as you might guess, a lot of compassion. Most of us feel compassion when a close friend is struggling. What would it be like to receive the same caring attention whenever you needed it most? Try shifting the direction of your attention—recognizing that as a human being, you too, are a worthy recipient of compassion.If you notice your inner critic or negative thoughts about yourself, try bringing awareness to the critical inner voice—without trying to change anything. Maybe this voice is from your past? Can you soften it a little now?
Self -Compassionate Breathing Exercise
Let’s try this practice by Kristin Neff called affectionate breathing:
Settling into a comfortable position where your body is supported.
Close your eyes, or keep your eyes open and lower your gaze in front of you.
Getting in touch with your body and noticing any sensations in this moment.
Doing a quick scan of areas in your body -noticing if the sensations are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
Take a few breaths to let out tension from your day.
Where do you feel the breathe most obviously or strongly?
Your nose, chest or stomach…. take a moment to observe your breath. Your body knows how to breathe itself so you don’t need to control it in any way.
Adopt a little half smile (not strained or forced) allowing the corners of your mouth to turn up a little. Notice how that makes you feel.
Maybe happiness with the present moment?
Breathing in and out and noticing how each in- breath and out-breath feels (pause).
Noticing how your body is nourished and perhaps energized with each breath.
Try to let your breath be touched with tenderness and care for yourself and others
Even if you don’t really feel it.
Allowing each breath to breathe in kindness for yourself and others ( pause)
Your mind will naturally wander as you do this.
Just notice. No need to judge yourself. Everyone’s mind wanders
The moment you notice, bringing your attention back to the breath is a moment of mindfulness.
Feeling some appreciation for your breath right now- it helps us stay alive.
Breathing in some kindness and affection for yourself and others(pause).
Remembering your little half smile.
If your mind wanders, gently bringing your attention back to noticing your breath
letting your breath comfort and soothe your body and releasing any tension there.
Noticing the gentle flow of your breath (pause)
The breath isn’t focused on improving style or rushing to reach the end of some daily to do list in order to take a break.
We can learn a lot from the breath from its natural rhythm, pace, and the way the breath continues its work, without making a big deal out of it.
Letting go of all efforts to change anything right now.
And allowing yourself to be held(pause).
Letting go of any ideas of meditating or achieving anything with permission to rest here, right now.
When you get distracted, bring awareness back to your breath without judgment.
Noticing any feelings being generated from your half smile and kindness being breathed in and out.
If it feels right to you , imagining your heart opening to receive these feelings of kindness (pause)
How does your body feel? What emotions are you feeling? (pause)
Allow yourself to rest in all of your experience and let yourself feel what you’re feeling.
Knowing that whenever you need it, you can come back to this anchor, this gentle rhythm of your breathing, like an internal caress– to be held and cared for whenever you need it.
Giving ourselves room to be human or flawed, allows us to kindly reflect and improve on ourselves, and that can impact how we treat ourselves, and others, and help in building a more compassionate and just society.
Listen to this on Insight Timer App: