On first impression, the terms “judgement” and “compassion” bear no apparent relationship. The word “judgement” brings two distinct images to mind: that of a courtroom, full of wigged magistrates and judges, gavels in hand, and that of Michelangelo’s “God of the skies” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Compassion, on the other hand, particularly in this Covid era, brings to mind images of caretakers: mothers with young children in their arms; those at the hospital tending to the sick and those in the nursing home taking care of the elderly and the demented. For me, the word compassion brings to mind the image of Jesus as a shepherd, tending to innocent lambs and sheep. And herein lies the challenge: it is easy to feel compassion for those who, in our minds, are innocent, like the sheep. The difficulty arises in being compassionate towards those on whom judgement has been passed and have been found to be of low character: the drug dealer, the liar, the criminal….How can we approach this difficulty?Is it possible to jump over this hurdle?
Compassion and judgment are two sides of the same coin. They are like two Sefirots ( emanations of energy) in the Jewish Tree of Life: on the left, Gevurah- or severity, where we find the qualities of strength and discipline but also the actions of withholding and judgment; and on the right, Chesed- or kindness, where loving grace of giving freely and love of God are found.
Here, striving for balance is not the answer! If God “strived” for a balance between Gevurah and Chesed, between right judgement and mercy, we would all be lost!
Fortunately for us, God “errs” on the side of mercy; and every time we choose compassion over condemnation we grow spiritually and are better able to receive and hold “light” from the upper branches of the Tree of Life: the Sefirots of understanding, knowledge and wisdom.
My mother’s fourth husband passed away after a protracted illness. I knew she was heartbroken, yet my passing judgement on the way she had lived her life, what she had done and what she had failed to do for us, her children, weighed so heavily in my heart that I found no compassion with which to attend my stepfather’s funeral…this still haunts me and I will carry it with me for the rest of my life. Being on the extreme left of the Tree of Life, with its rigidity and its severity brought me no peace of mind
Today, my mother is rapidly deteriorating. She is becoming completely dependent on us, her children. She needs to be taken care of. This time, I will try to pass no judgement. I will try stay on the right side of the Tree of Life. I will try to be compassionate and not condemning. I will take care of her, and in doing so, I will have peace of mind. And perhaps the Creator, that “God of the skies” who is also “God of all hearts”, will look upon me with compassion and mercy when my time comes.