Our circle of concern is the figurative proximity to demonstrate whom we do and do not care for. Generally speaking, an average circle would include oneself, one’s family, and one’s close friends. If someone in our circle was sick, in danger, or unhappy, we would sympathize with them and be concerned about their pain, hence the name “circle of concern.” In Parshat Emor, we are introduced to a unique paradigm on the nature of our relationships with people and creatures of the world.
The Torah says, “However, no animal from the herd or from the flock shall be slaughtered on the same day with its young” (Vayikra 22:28). This pasuk says that while preparing a (female) animal to eat, we may not shecht (slaughter) her on the same day as her calf.
Many commentaries agree that this is a display of sensitive and thoughtful compassion, but there is disagreement about the deeper implications of this mitzvah.
Similar to this mitzvah, another mitzvah in Devarim obligates us to first send away a mother bird before we take her eggs, as this, too, is a sign of kindheartedness (22:26). The Ramban comments on both of these mitzvot that their purpose is to “eradicate cruelty and pitilessness from man’s heart… The real reason is to cultivate mercy … for cruelty envelops the entire personality of man” (Devarim 22:26).
The Kedushat Levi adds that these two mitzvot are supposed to instill us with a merciful compassion for all of Hashem’s creations, whether human or animal; Hashem wants us to act sensitively and empathetically, even for the animals we may simply see as a meal.
When we think about the ideas of the Ramban and the Kedushat Levi, it becomes apparent how Judaism is trying to bring about godly characteristics, as we aspire to “walk in His [Hashem’s] ways” (Devarim 26:17). There is something empowering about believing that we can, and are encouraged to, strive in Hashem’s “ways.”
At our essence, we are all neshamot (souls), Hashem is the Source of our souls, the Soul of our souls. We are a piece of Him, but we are not Him. That being said, we want to channel Hashem into our lives, bringing love and goodness into the world; in this case, that means seeking to bring more God-consciousness into the world by trying to reflect Hashem’s divine compassion.
Thinking about the idea of our circle of concerns, the mitzvot regarding a mother cow and bird offer great insight. In Orot Hakodesh, Rav Kook’s exquisite teaching sheds a fresh take on these larger conversations.
“One must always try to transcend one’s individual world,” Rav Kook writes. “Sometimes self-centeredness fills one’s whole being, until all of one’s thoughts are focused only on one’s own individual concerns” (3, p. 147, as translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 117).
We should not reign in our heart when it seeks to embrace others, whether that be a close friend or a mere fly. Our circle of concern should extend beyond those we instinctively care about. As Rav Kook said, we always one to go beyond our individual world, to see life in all the colors Hashem painted it with. When we care more about others, we emulate the love of our true, soulful selves.