Volume 30, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2010
Sharing the Burden
Rabbi Simḥah Zissel Ziv on Love and Empathy
RABBI SIMḤAH ZISSEL ZIV OF KELME, LITHUANIA, WAS ONE OF THE EARLY leaders of the Musar movement, a pietistic religious movement in nineteenth century Europe that attempted to place concerns with moral character at the center of Jewish life. This essay introduces Simḥah Zissel's virtue-centered approach to the Torah's central commandment that one "love one's fellow as one-self." For Simḥah Zissel, love is a disposition of the soul, with emotional and intellectual aspects culminating in action. Love demands a sense of partnership with others and a sense of care that should extend to all of God's creatures; love requires that we not privilege ourselves over other people; and the highest level of love is "sharing the burden of one's fellow," compassionate love characterized by empathy and responsiveness, which can only be cultivated through great effort.