As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust. — Psalm 103:13–14
In Hebrew, the word for love is ahava, which comes from the root word, hav, “to give.” In Judaism, to love is to give. Giving to others forms the connection that enables us to love one another. Join us this month, as we offer a devotional series exploring the Jewish perspective on love.
In Psalm 103, King David wrote, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” The Jewish sages ask, “Like which father?” They explain that this verse isn’t talking about just any father who has compassion for his children; it is talking about the patriarch Abraham. He, more than anyone else in the Bible, demonstrated endless love and compassion for all humanity.
Abraham’s unique love for people was best demonstrated when he prayed on behalf of the people of Sodom. It’s one thing to have compassion for good people who slip up once in a while; it’s another to feel empathy for people who are prone to evil. The people of Sodom were cruel, immoral, and godless. Yet Abraham made every attempt to save them when God informed him about their imminent destruction.
Abraham tried to bargain with God and find enough good people in Sodom to make all worthy of salvation. He focused on the good in the people and not on their overwhelming wickedness. Ultimately, Abraham wasn’t successful at saving the doomed people of Sodom; however, he did succeed at teaching us an important life lesson.
From Abraham we learn that we need to try to see the good in every single person. No matter how far astray a person may wander, we must try to find something redeeming about him or her. We must search out mitigating circumstances and judge that person favorably. If we can see others in a positive light, then they will learn to see the good in themselves as well, and when they see themselves as good, they may just begin to live that way, too.
The philosopher Plato put it this way: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” For the most part, when we encounter people, we only see them superficially. We aren’t privy to the entire story that’s beneath the surface. We don’t always know what kind of childhood a person had, and we aren’t aware of the struggles they may be facing in the present. There is far more that we don’t know than what we do know about any given person.
Only God sees beneath the surface. As King David wrote, “For he knows how we are formed . . .” (103:14). When God looks at His children He sees the whole picture, and so He judges them favorably and has deep compassion for them. We must learn to see each other through God’s eyes — with empathy, understanding, and love. With that kind of perspective, we can do more good than harm. Like Abraham, instead of bringing people down, we can help to raise them up.