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Becoming Attuned

This week the Torah speaks about social justice laws: the laws and obligations that pertain to interpersonal relationships.The Torah understands that people react to comments or events within a context and expects that we take this it into account in our relationships. The Torah specifically singles out how we treat the more vulnerable members of our socitey: specifically the orphans and widows.

"Im Aneh sa'aneh Tza'ak Ti'tzak Ailay V' Shama Eshma Osam" If you will oppress [the orphans and the widows], and they cry out to me, I will hear their pain." In describing this law, evey word is repeated: the words if you oppress, they will cry, and I will hear are all using double language. One of the great Chasidic masters point out what psycologists name today as primary and secondary hurts.

Every person has both primary and secondary hurts. They usually reveal the secondary hurt, buit it is often concealing a deeper more complex hurt.: the primary hurt. When the more vulnerable people in society are hurt or offended, it is often pronounced in two layers: the actual feeling of offense and the reminder of how vulnerable they really are.

We may be inclined to assume that people are resiliant, but the Torah reminds us that we must not only avoid hurting anyone, but also take into account any extra layer of vulnerability. Tthe Torah therefore uses two terms to describe the experience, one to address the inital primary hurt and the second to addres the deeper secondary hurt that the orphan or widow may feel when offended. It takes some effort to tune ourselves in to the feelings of other people, but can eventually become part of who we are.

At a Jewish wedding recently, a group of the bride's friends were playing a "wedding" game with the bride. The bride stood on a chair with a brooch while her friends danced with baloons around her and she tried to burst the baloons with the brooch. As the friends were dodging the bride's brooch and enjoying the competition, a younger participant entered the game: a down's syndrom girl who wanted to "play." Within seconds, she was handed a baloon and all of the other young women purposely had their baloons popped, until she was the only one left in the game. The crowd of friends cheered her on as she gleefully waved her baloon and shouted "I am winning the game." It was a split second decision that the friends of the bride had made, but one that took into account her vulnerability and offered her joy in a dignified way.

This is the way of the Torah. Pay extra attention to the underpriveleged. Become attuned to the way that they feel. Make it a natural part of yourself.


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