By Solomon Moon
Many people may not be aware of Peter Parker's Jewish origins. The web slinging superhero, Spider-Man has the power to climb walls, lift objects 100 times his size, and shoot spider webs from his wrists. That may sound fantastical, but his greatest superpower is something we all possess. It's the same power that G-d exercises daily on our behalf, and it's a power that can change lives. Whether or not we choose to use that special power is always a choice left to us.
This week's Torah portion, Shemot, commences the journey of the Israelites to be led out of slavery by the Divine. G-d, being mindful of their suffering, sought to liberate the Israelites from Egypt. This act of life-sustaining lovingkindness to support and care for the ancient Israelites is demonstrative of G-d's chesed. But there are a few others in this parsha who do chesed in a way that embodies the same kindness exhibited by the Divine. They are the amazing women in this story whose compassion essentially saves the life of Moses.
Fans of Spider-Man will know the famous words of Peter Parker's Uncle Ben: "With great power comes great responsibility." This is a lesson that can also be learned from Moses, the midwives, Batiya, Miriam, and Yocheved as well. For instance, when Batiya, Pharaoh's daughter, finds Moses in the river and refuses
to commit infanticide simply because he was a Hebrew baby boy, her compassion proved itself to not only be life-saving but also one of the catalysts for liberation of the Hebrews.
It can be difficult to see the significance and impact of one small act of kindness amid a great number of tragedies and grief. Yet, it is also important to never forget people like Miriam, Yocheved, Batiya, Zipporah, Shifra, and Puah. These heroines did not have super strength or the ability to wrangle evil-doers with spiderwebs. They instead possessed a greater gift and power: the ability to show compassion and empathy for the stranger, the other, the oppressed, and the alleged enemy.
These women looked beyond themselves and the consequences that could have befallen them, such as for defying Pharaoh, to see their humanity reflected in another human being regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. Then, they extended to "the other" the same unconditional lovingkindness that G-d offers to everyone. This teaches that out of the 7 billion people enduring their own hardships, even if it's just one person who is the recipient of your kindness, you have made the world a better place. While a single act of kindness may seem small relative to the grand scheme of life, it can mean the world to that person.
Peter didn't get the slogan "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" just because he saves lives and fights crime. Spider-Man took on the title after his act of unkindness led to the death of his uncle. After a bookie refused to pay Peter in the Spider-Man film, Peter chose to let a robber escape even though he had the power to stop the criminal. That same criminal killed Peter’s Uncle Ben shortly after. Since then, Peter made it a habit to use his powers for good and do acts of kindness. He's a superhero who not only saves lives but also shows up for his fans in the hospital and helps the elderly cross the street safely.
Kindness in whatever form it takes is an imperative because it can soften the hardest hearts. It’s what can transform the stranger into a neighbor or friend. Needless to say but all the more important to remember, communities and relationships are forged and strengthened through compassion and empathy, not hatred and violence. Psalms reminds us that the world was created from G-d's chesed. Likewise, Tikkun Olam and a better tomorrow can be achieved through our chesed because kindness begets kindness.
Suffering becomes bearable and worth persevering through when compassion relieves the pain of others. Everyone struggles and is fighting their own battles, but no one need fight alone. Batiya’s kindness towards Moses is her way of standing with the Israelites and humanity in solidarity. To relieve the suffering of another is the greatest gift we can share, the greatest power we all possess. For it is our collective responsibility to acknowledge other people’s suffering as our own and to act compassionately towards them, as Batiya does for Moses.