Everyone has his own version, her own interpretation, of what “compassion” means. In Hebrew, however, there is no such leeway. The Torah defines the meaning through the root of the word. Rachamim – the Hebrew word for compassion – does not allow for arbitrary interpretation. The word is derived from the root of the Hebrew word “rechem,” womb, teaching us that the way a mother feels about the child she carries under her heart constitutes compassion.
Not, mind you, how she feels about her son or daughter but rather about that unborn infant she carries within her. As much as a mother loves the child who stands before her, there are times the child can irritate her and even evoke anger. But she can never be annoyed by that little one who has yet to be born. That child is guarded and awaited with joy. And that is the meaning of “rachamim.”
When you think about it, the meaning as it is defined here, in the context of the womb and the child, extends to nation and citizen. Rachamim is what our nation seems to have a lack of.
When it comes to police brutality, it seems, we have no rachamim.
When it comes to poverty and hunger, it seems, we have no rachamim.
When it comes to creating jobs and compensating workers fairly, we have no rachamim.
When it comes to housing and shelter, it seems, we have no rachamim.
When it comes to healthcare for all of our citizens, it seems, we only have some rachamim.
Rachamim is a word that is common to all languages. Mercy is a concept that is common to all cultures.
Does compassion depend on religiosity? Does it depend on conformity to ideals or beliefs? Is it conditional?
I say it is free will. It is the recognition that we all matter; that in some way, we all make great contributions by virtue of our participation, in whatever capacity.