Since hateful words and actions have played such a large role in our collective experience and consciousness over the last year, it was fitting that our last PTJL session at Temple Beth Elohim focused on the opposite of hate: kindness. Our incredible group of twelve parents— with children ranging from newborn to 13 years old— spent our time together struggling with the profound disappointment and fear we feel as parents when our leaders, our supposed role models for empathy and kindness, do not emulate this simple human trait. How can we effectively teach kindness, compassion, and understanding to our children when so many around us are focused on the opposite?
This was the question that emerged at the core of our conversation on kindness. As a group we struggled, supported, and ultimately emerged with hope about the possibility of filling our children with empathy, showing deep compassion and care for others, and modeling kind actions. We decided that today, more than ever, we as parents must make a point to show the benefit and importance of those small acts of kindness— towards our friends, neighbors, those we know and those we don’t know…in the car, in the classroom, at work, at the market, and at home.
We explored the ways in which our Jewish tradition teaches us to “walk in God’s ways” (Deuteronomy 8:6). That we should try to act the way God acts. “Just as God is called compassionate and gracious, so you too must be compassionate and gracious…” (Sifre Deuteronomy 49). If we are compassionate and gracious, then we bring forth the divine and sacred into our world. Much of our conversation was centered on the notion of trying to cultivate an awareness of the sacred in each of us. That is, when we seek to see the sacred in another, kindness follows; of course, the inverse happens as well.
When we are truly kind and loving to one another, we bring forth the possibility of a sacred encounter. May we live our lives in the pursuit of kindness, bringing more and more sacred encounters into our world.
Rabbi Philip Sherman is Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth Elohim, and father of two young children.