Wide Open: A Practice for Compassion

Imagine that you’re Moses. You’re 80 years old. You just led the Israelites through the sea to freedom. And now you’re at the top of Mt. Sinai carving tablets of stone into instructions for life. You haven’t eaten much for 40 days. You come down the mountain carrying the weight of the law and there are these thankless people dancing and cavorting around a monstrosity of gold. You are tired, you are burdened, and you are angry. You think: “After all I’ve given, after everything we’ve been through, this is how they repay me? They don’t seem to care at all. They can think of nothing but themselves.” You shatter the tablets and you want revenge.

And then, as you storm up to the mass of them, you see their eyes. These are not the eyes of people who do not care. These are the eyes of fear. They are terrified. You see their confusion. You see their vulnerability. You see how lost they feel, how abandoned, how alone.

And you find that the boiling hot rage inside you melts. It drains down into the earth leaving you with an ache of compassion, of rachamim. Your heart melts into tenderness as you see this huddled mass of refugees, as you see their loss, their burdens, their sorrows, their fears. And now you are wide open, aching for them.

Feel yourself now in your seat. Sit comfortably in your chair. Notice your breath gently coming and going, filling your lungs with sweet air, leaving your body to return to the world. Notice the coolness in your nose, the expansion in your chest and back, the stretching of your belly. Feel your spine rising from its base all the way to your skull. Feel the crown of your head reaching toward the heavens. Feel your feet planted on the earth and your legs rooting you to the soles of your feet.

As you return to your breath, bring your attention to your chest. Feel your heart. Imagine that you could hold your heart in the greatest tenderness. Soften all around your heart.   Hold your heart in the greatest gentleness. And as you do, bring into your mind’s eye the image of someone you love. See their face. See the burdens they carry. See their sorrows, their heartache, their fear, their suffering. And feel the compassion, the rachamim, fill your heart. May you be held in the greatest compassion. May you be free from suffering, sorrow, and fear. May your heart have peace. Now imagine that they look back at you with tender eyes, and they see your suffering, your fears, your sorrows, your burdens. And they say to you, may you be held in the greatest compassion, may you be free from suffering, sorrow and fear. May your heart have peace. And now open your eyes just a bit, look gently around at the others in the room, and close your eyes again. Holding these people in your mind’s eye, May you be held in the greatest compassion, may you be free from suffering, sorrow, and fear. May your heart have peace.

-by Rabbi Rachel Timoner

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