Difficult situations



When we hear about a tragedy and feel a strong emotion are we feeling sorry for them because of what they are going through or are we feeling sorry for ourselves because "that could've been me"?


To the Questioner, 

The way I understand it is: All of human experience of others, can only be understood through human experience of our selves. 

In other words, the only way you could really feel what someone else is feeling, is if you once felt it yourself.  

Therefore, subconsciously, when we see a disturbing occurrence we automatically "translate it" to be as bad as whatever we ourselves have experienced in the past, and we measure it according to different degrees of difficulties that we have already "recorded"  in our "experiential memory" . 
This explains why a child might go to the edge of a rooftop and not be scared; he has no experiential background of what to be scared about. 

So we are not feeling strong emotion because "it could have been me", necessarily; but we do feel the emotion because of something that we went through personally in the past, that was now triggered and aroused by what we see. 

Beyond all this, we each embody a heavenly trait of Compassion; this trait gives us the ability the feel for others in their situation, independent of the consideration that it could ever "be me" personally. 

The trait of Compassion is connected to the idea of "Giving", and therefore does not have to be connected to only being worried about one's self, i.e. "Taking". 

With Blessings, 
Rav Nachum