Guided by Compassion

January 12, 2024/ 2 Shevat 5784

In this week’s Torah portion, Vaera, we read the narrative of Pharaoh’s “hardened heart”, and the ensuing plagues that serve as a cautionary tale about the perils of misguided leadership, echoing historical instances where hate, discrimination, and control led to the suffering of a leader’s own people. This poignant lesson resonates through the annals of history, finding parallels in the destructive paths of leaders like Hitler, Mao, Mugabe, Saddam Hussein, and today, Hamas.

Pharaoh’s oppressive actions resulted in a cascade of afflictions, with each plague a consequence of his refusal to recognize the shared humanity of his Hebrew slaves. Sadly, this flawed leadership philosophy has repeated itself throughout history, with cruel leaders pursuing agendas rooted in discrimination and control that brought calamity upon their own citizens. The Torah reminds us that when leaders prioritize personal agendas over the well-being of their people, the entire nation suffers.

Yet, the Torah’s lesson extends beyond condemnation to a universal truth – the interconnectedness of all people. The plagues did not distinguish between the leadership and common citizen, emphasizing the shared human experience. This echoes the repeating historical condemnation faced by leaders whose actions brought suffering to their own populations. It underscores the importance of leaders recognizing the humanity of all individuals.

As we reflect on Vaera and the historical parallels, the Torah implores us to embrace compassionate leadership. Leaders must cultivate humility, empathy, and a commitment to justice to avoid the pitfalls of misguided agendas. The Torah challenges us to envision a world where leaders prioritize unity, understanding, and the well-being of all, preventing the mistakes of the past in our pursuit of a more compassionate future.

This week San Antonio City Council moved one step closer to living up to our “Compassionate City” maxim. With District 8 Council member Pelaez rescinding his participation with District 2 & 5 council members’ call for a resolution in the Israel-Hamas war, those of us affected by the tragedies and innocent lives lost can begin working together to build local peace and understanding versus the chaos and discord that brought about the pursuit for a resolution in the first place.

The Torah’s teachings compel us not only to reflect but to act. In the spirit of unity and understanding, let us take a moment to reach out to those with whom we may have disagreed. Whether a colleague, neighbor, or loved one, initiate a conversation to repair the relationship, even if it means agreeing to disagree. Respecting one another is about listening, understanding, and acknowledging our shared humanity. Peace is not achieved through identical beliefs, but through treating one another with peace.

In the words of the esteemed Jewish scholar and philosopher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel obm: “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” This wisdom encapsulates the essence of compassionate leadership and the pursuit of peace. Cleverness may sow discord, but kindness, understanding, and unity pave the way for a harmonious society.

Let us heed the lessons of Vaera and the echoes of history, working together toward a shared peace and understanding. In the face of challenges, may calmer heads prevail, guided by compassion and empathy. Rabbi Heschel’s words remind us that true strength lies not in division but in unity. By embracing the philosophy where we contribute to the realization of a world where compassion triumphs, and peace is achieved through our collective commitment to understanding, respecting, and valuing one another. Because we are…


Shabbat Shalom.