Kenneth Cohen

Compassion and Cruelty

It is interesting that when the Torah gives the command to destroy the “Ir Hanidachat,” the Condemned City, we are to completely obliterate everything in that city. This includes, men, women, cattle, and all of its possessions.

This is followed by a word of consolation from Hashem, “Ve’Richamcha,” and He will have mercy on you. This is a source for the connection between compassion and cruelty. Hashem is promising us that we should not worry that we will lose our sense of compassion in fulfilling this difficult Mitzva. Destroying evil IS compassion!

Rabbi Twerski gives a simple example of this idea. If a baby could speak, he might say to his mother, who is giving him one of his infant inoculations, “I thought you were taking care of me. Why are you bringing me to a place where they cause me pain?” The baby doesn’t realize that this is for his ultimate protection.

This misplaced compassion that is really cruelty, manifests itself with families of addicts. When they cover up for their family members who have broken the law, this is not mercy. Sometimes they must suffer the consequences so that they can be rehabilitated. We must be aware how closely connected compassion and cruelty, really are. We must realize that often what we think is compassion, is really cruelty.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at