The Fourth Level of Mercy calls attention to the fundamental connectedness of humanity. The Jewish people in particular maintain a strong familial relationship which Rabbi Cordovero describes as a basic unity, as if each individual Jew constituted a limb of a single body. On a Kabbalistic level, the Jewish people derive their vitality from a single flow of energy, branching out into myriads upon myriads of individuals, but at their root they are essentially one entity, as will be discussed in the commentary below. Rabbi Cordovero’s treatment of the well-known Talmudic teaching (Sanhedrin 27b) that “all Jews are responsible for each other” may be understood in its literal sense: “all Jews are tied (ערב) to one another.” Date Palm of Devorah explores the meaning of this concept in the context of the creation of a minyan, or prayer quorum.
This familial connection carries two implications that are especially relevant to the concept of forgiveness. First, Rabbi Cordovero borrows a human metaphor to reveal the Kabbalistic secret of the suffering of the Divine Parent: just as a mother or father experiences pain when a child is anguished, so too does God suffer over our tribulations, so to speak. Second, Rabbi Cordovero extends the metaphor to the requisite behavior of siblings, who must carry greater levels of tolerance for each other than they would for strangers. This latter point brings his treatment of the Fourth Level to a conclusion with a discussion of the special level of forgiveness that Jews, as a family, must have for each other. The principles of this Level may be applied beyond the Jewish people as a whole, but Rabbi Cordovero directs his attention here to a specific audience.
Behold, God treats the Jewish people in this manner, saying “what shall I do with Israel, for they are my family, I share one flesh with them?” They are the marriage partner of God, who calls them “my daughter, my sister, my mother.” This is as the Rabbis explained, and as it is written: “Israel, the nation related to God,” literally related to God. They are God’s children.
This is the meaning of “the remnant of His inheritance,” a phrase that implies a familial relationship, and in end they are His inheritance. What does God say? “If I punish them, behold it pains me,” as it is written: “with all their pain—it is painful to Him.”
The word “to Him”[לו] is written with an alef [לא] as if to say that their pain reaches the highest mystery, and how much more so the “two faces,” which are essential to direction. Nevertheless we pronounce this word as if it were written with a vav, meaning it is painful to Him.
This is as it is written: “and His soul was grieved by the anguish of Israel,” because God does not tolerate their pain and insult, since they are the remnant of His inheritance.
So too should a person treat another. All Israel are related to each other, for their souls are all bound as one—each Jew has a portion of the other’s soul and vice versa. In this manner, “one cannot compare the act of many people performing a commandment [to one person acting alone]” because they are gathered together. This is what the Sages said regarding the first ten people who create a prayer quorum in the synagogue: even if a hundred people enter afterward, the first ten receive merit equivalent to them all, literally the merit of the hundred latecomers. This is because the first ten is contained within the hundred, which is ten times ten, a hundred. Each one of them is contained within the hundred, and if so, even if a hundred come, each of the first ten has the merit of the hundred. Also for this reason, all Jews are responsible for one another, because each of them literally possesses a portion of each other. When one of them sins, he harms himself as well as harming the portion of himself that resides in the other, since he is connected to his part that is contained within his fellow. They are related to each other.
Thus it is appropriate for a person to seek the benefit of one’s fellow, showing him generosity of spirit. He should consider his dignity as dear to him as his own, for they are literally a single entity. Because of this we are commanded, “and you will love your fellow as yourself.”
It is fitting that a person supports the fundamental goodness of another and not speak evil of him at all. One should not wish for anything that is inconsistent with what God desires for that person, neither his disgrace nor his suffering, for they are related to God. A person should not wish to see another’s downfall, nor suffering, nor any harm at all, and view the situation of as if he himself were immersed in the same suffering, or exalting in the same good fortune.
Henry Abramson serves as Dean of the mighty Avenue J campus of Touro College. A specialist in Jewish history and thought, he is the author of several works, most recently Torah from the Years of Wrath 1939-1943: The Historical Context of the Aish Kodesh. His online lectures in Jewish history are available at henryabramson.com.
View all posts by Henry Abramson