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It was the Holocaust. Jews were stripped of all possessions and left only with a ragged set of striped pyjamas. Every fifth Jew was handed a blanket.
Seeing past their own struggles, many chose to share their blanket, huddling, five on one plank, one cloth to stave off the frost.
In this week's Torah portion while the Jews are suffering in Egypt, God says, "Also I have heard the outcry of the Children of Israel" (Shemot 6:5).
Rabbi Moshe Sofer explains that "also" is not only referring to God, but that the people "also" heard one another’s cries. Despite their own affliction, they did not forget about the pain of their fellow man. (Adapted from Love your neighbour by Zelig Pliskin)
Sometimes, in order to try and understand someone’s pain it is necessary to tap into the power of the imagination, and to try and imagine what they may be feeling.
But sometimes no imagination is necessary. One may be going through the same pain, or suffered similarly in the past.
There is a danger though that when a person is experiencing a similar hardship that instead of empathizing, he actually dismisses it. "I survived, so can he!" or "It’s not sooo bad."
We can learn from both the Jews in the Holocaust scenario, and in Egypt, the importance of not becoming numb to similar suffering around us. Instead, to use it as a tool.
Similar experience provides an opportunity to empathize in a way that others may never be able to and to better understand better what that person truly needs.
Share the blanket.