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Compassionate Justice and Parshat Devarim

Updated: Feb 4

Self -Compassionate Breathing Exercise

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”

Judge righteously.

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."

Self-compassion is learned in part by connecting with our innate compassion for others, and it also helps to grow and sustain our compassion for others.

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?

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.