Dear Readers
Welcome to the November edition of Mind Body & Soul, themed “Is there more than one way to heal?” Interestingly, most of the articles submitted focus less on the differences between treatment modalities and more on the common threads of effective, healing treatment. Also, several articles challenge the notion that emotional healing must eradicate any and all vestiges of illness. In particular, Douglas Balin demonstrates how the trait of resilience supports people in addressing their ongoing emotional challenges. Alan Singer describes not only the possibilities, but also the limits of emotional healing. C. Rubin draws our attention to the dynamic of resistance and how it, too, is woven into the healing process. Yehuda Krohn tracks the incremental changes made by depth-oriented couples work. Simcha Feuerman attends to the curative powers of giving and receiving, within strained marriages. There is one approach, toward both self and others, that I find particularly essential to the process of healing. I’m referring to a specific form of compassion.


Let’s start with a working definition:

Compassion is the ability to see the good in someone, even as they may have done something wrong or hurtful. It often relies on an openness to considering context, that is the mitigating factors contributing to a misstep or misdeed.


For example, If you witnessed someone in Shul making a hurtful comment to someone else, you might be tempted to judge the offending person as self-centered and uncaring. If, though, you are open to the experience of compassion, you might consider whether they meant or even understood what they said, whether they were under some sort of pressure, or whether a painful experience of their own contributed to their making the comment. (Some readers may discern here a parallel to the concept of Dan Lekaf Zechus - judging favorably.) Of course, your capacity for compassion simultaneously allows for the person who was hurt to keep their distance, until and unless they sense it is safe to re-engage.


Compassion is rooted in Jewish thought. Bruriah, the wife of Rebbi Meir, reminded her husband that we don’t pray for the death of Sinners (Chot’im), but rather for the end of Sins (Chata’im). Also, Chazal deduce from the unique parallel narratives at the beginning of Bereishis that the world was first created with the trait of Justice, that it could not stand as such, and that it was recreated by mating Justice to Mercy/Compassion. Compassion is woven into the fabric of creation. It allows the world’s inhabitants to exist.


To whom should we extend compassion? Many of us view compassion as outwardly directed - a sentiment we ideally have toward imperfect others. In my opinion, compassion begins with our ability to look inward, to recognize our own imperfections and place them in context. When we are capable of experiencing compassion toward ourselves, we are in a better position to feel compassion and extend it toward others. In other words, compassion begins with the self and radiates outwards. Why is compassion, particularly for the self, a necessary ingredient of healing? To answer this question, I’d like to discuss what happens in people who lack compassion for the self. They tend to experience significant amounts of shame and despair. They are also wracked by a particular form of anxiety. If you have done something wrong (most of us have), and you lack compassion for yourself, you may feel an inordinate amount of shame, particularly a sense that you are unwanted or that you are unworthy of others’ love. You may similarly feel that your misdeed renders you irredeemable, that there is no way for you to ever fix the wrong you’ve committed. (Even as Teshuvah/return is a process that is available to believing Jews, those without compassion may not even be able to contemplate the Teshuvah process.)


Secondly, if something inside of you feels broken, you likely need to look back at the events that brought you to this point. If you lack compassion, you may feel a great degree of anxiety in identifying your own missteps, for fear of discovering that you’re a bad person. You’d likely find yourself denying the events and missteps, even as this blocks your pathway to healing. In similar fashion, you’d be unwilling to examine the missteps and misdeeds of your parents and other loved ones, for fear of disrespecting them or of portraying them as terrible people.


On the other hand, when you do have compassion, then you are willing to consider that at least some of your misdeeds occurred when you were younger, or that you were in pain when you committed them, or that you didn’t know better. With the above in mind, you are in a stronger position to reclaim a sense of worthiness. Moreover, your awareness that you are more mature, more whole and wiser, or, in the least, capable of heading toward those traits, means that you can somehow redeem your past mistakes.


In addition, when you are ready to approach past events with compassion, you can feel a greater sense of calm. Whatever you uncover doesn’t make you a monster. It does show that you were once less than perfect. NOW, though, you may be a more complete and wholesome person. You are likely in a better position to identify the steps toward healing. All of the above fosters a sense of curiosity, one that is essential for therapeutic progress. Similarly, when you confront painful past experiences with your parents, your acknowledging those experiences doesn’t mean that your parents were terrible people. It does mean that they didn’t give you, at least then, what you needed. Your parents may have faced their own pain, their own inexperience, their own pressures.

Moving forward, you may discern that your parents have become better at parenting you, or that you don’t need from them, now, what you then needed. Sometimes, you might decide that your parents are limited and that you can’t count on getting from them what you still need. In those instances, you may choose to have compassion, even as you keep your distance.

Compassion means allowing context to frame your and others’ past misdeeds. It helps cultivate a sense of worthiness, a sense of calm, and a healthy curiosity about the past. Compassion may not force you to re-engage with people who let you down, but it does clear the space for you to hold a different, perhaps fuller, view of them. Compassion is one of the ways we heal.


Rabbi Yehuda Krohn, Psy.D. is the Senior Editor of Mind Body & Soul. He can be
reached at


Photo by Dave Lowe on Unsplash