Dig Deeper, Featured

Empathy vs. Sympathy

An important way to build “kindness muscles” is to empathize with Others’ problems.
Imagine your friend is in a deep, dark hole. “Sympathy” means standing at the top of the hole, peering in, and saying “Oh, that’s so hard!” “Empathy” means crawling into the hole and being there with them.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

“I know exactly how you feel.”

Moses, went to the slave labor field and put his shoulder to the grindstone. He felt others’ pain as his own, and helped alleviate that burden.

In 19th century Lithuania, the Jewish community of Kovno operated a homeless shelter which fell into disrepair. Despite various appeals, the community failed to fix the facility.
One evening, the town’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, went to sleep in the shelter. He vowed to continue doing so until proper repairs were made.

To toughen this principle of empathy against varying moods and circumstances the bible states “Love your neighbor” as an obligation. It is a mistake to wait until we’re emotionally “inspired” to help others. People are influenced by our actions and eventually our emotions will catch up with our deeds.

Everyday life presents myriad opportunities for doing good. Some fun and practical ideas:

  • Greet everyone with a smile.
  • Keep your word.
  • Help someone struggling with a load.
  • Invite friends to dinner.
  • Ask an elder for “wise advice.”
  • Support a interest free loan fund.
  • Visit patients at the local hospital.
  • Care especially for widows and orphans.
  • Call your mother with gratitude for the gift of life.
  • Be careful with other’s property.
  • Offer a human word to the grocery clerk. (“Are you doing okay today?”)
  • Make peace between two people arguing.
  • Serve meals at a homeless shelter.
  • Remove temptations for others to falter – e.g. don’t make it easy for people to steal your things.
  • Offer constructive criticism.
  • Don’t stand idly by when another’s life is in danger.

Loving Kindness is a crucial component of our spiritual-emotional health. The Dead Sea got its name because – as the lowest point on Earth – water flows in but never flows out. This inability to give to others is what we can likens to the malnourished and withered “walking dead.”

One good way to nurture a giving spirit is to declare each morning: “I accept to focus on the commandment of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” King David said, “the world is built on kindness.” [Psalms 89:2]

Loving Kindness means reaching out unselfishly, with love and generosity to all.


We can rebuild and heal this world through unconditional love.


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