Whose Compassion?

One of the most intriguing back-to-back verses in the Hebrew prayer book is the plea made three times daily by the Jewish people to G-d, “May Our Eyes See Your Return to Zion in Compassion” and G-d’s ensuing promise that “He Restores his Presence to Zion”.  These somewhat mysterious verses are loaded with layers and layers of depth.

As I was focusing on these words yesterday morning in synagogue, I was rewarded with what I believe is an insight.

The standard understanding and translation of the Hebrew ve-techezena einenu be-shuvacha le-tzion be-rachamim is as I wrote above, “May Our Eyes See Your Return to Zion in Compassion”. This is the way most people understand the verse and this is the way I’ve always understood it; that is, until yesterday morning.

Although I don’t claim to be a grammatical expert in Hebrew, it seems that the Hebrew be-rachamim (“in Compassion”) can either modify G-d’s Return, or, and this is the new part, our seeing. In other words, as I stood quietly in prayers yesterday morning I started to wonder if we’re praying that “G-d Returns in Compassion” or that “We Compassionately See G-d’s Return”.

As I thought about this some more, two problems with the normal understanding quickly popped into my mind. The first is the ensuing verse, G-d’s Promise that “He Restores his Presence to Zion”. Note that it doesn’t’ say “He Compassionately Restores his Presence to Zion” but simply “He Restores his Presence to Zion”. The second problem is conceptual rather than textual. If we assume that that the Compassion is attached to the Return, then this would imply that we’re saying “G-d, please don’t allow your return to Zion to be marked by anger or jealousy or some other negative trait but rather let it be done in compassion”. This however is ludicrous since G-d Returning his Presence to Zion after a long, long exile (whatever this really means we’ll place on the side) is obviously an act of tremendous good and compassion.

Thus, it appears that the compassion in the above verse is really meant to describe the way we see this incredible return of G-d’s Presence to Zion, an unfolding historical process which is the underlying magnet drawing the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel.

So what then does it mean to “compassionately view this process”? It means when we lose patience with the seemingly slow pace of events and we’re angry at G-d and beseech him to fast-forward the process in order that everyone quickly wake up and understand the many truths that seem so obvious to many of us, we need to, in the words of the esoteric teachings, “sweeten this anger with loving kindness” in order to show G-d some compassion. It’s not easy but we really need to believe that the pace which G-d has chosen for the process is exactly the pace which is needed.

Obviously this doesn’t mean we simply sit on our butts and do nothing and say “everything is in G-d’s control”.  That’s not real emuna (for lack of a better word emuna is frequently translated as “faith”) and it’s certainly not Judaism.  We definitely need to keep trying, each one in his or her own unique way, but regardless of whether or not we see the desired results we need to stay calm and never allow ourselves to fall into despair.  Despite what our human eyes may see, the return to Zion, both of G-d’s Presence and the Jewish people, is moving right along.

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4 Responses to Whose Compassion?

  1. David says:

    Exactly “It’s not easy but we really need to believe that the pace which G-d has chosen for the process is exactly the pace which is needed.”

  2. David says:

    Great article Yoel. Patience, discipline, concentration, faith in ourself and belief in G-d. G-d created us; so we should have more confidence in ourselves, and many people don’t. Your article touches on the point of me myself and I, and things don’t always work out for the unappreciative.

    Thank you!

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