How to Comfort Others by Not Comforting Them by Ruchi Koval

How to Comfort Others by Not Comforting Them by Ruchi Koval

When people I care about complain to me, I become uncomfortable because I feel their pain.
Since I love them, I want to move them and myself away from that pain by trying to swat it away like an annoying mosquito. And since I’m a fixer, it seems natural to move into fixer mode. By explaining away the pain, maybe I can save them -and myself- from discomfort.
But the truth is different. Explaining away pain may make me feel better, and even like a hero, but it does nothing for the other person. In fact, he or she may feel misunderstood, dismissed, invalidated, lonelier than before, and less likely to share with us in the future.
One of the character traits we are to aspire to in Judaism is called nosei b’ol im chavero, “bearing the burden with your friend.” The Torah is full of examples where great leaders were with their flock in their pain.
Moses was chosen as the leader of the Jewish people for just this reason. As noted, though he was raised in Pharaoh’s palace, he went out from that privileged space to see his brother’s pain. Later, when a small sheep ran away from his flock, Moses lovingly and carefully carried it back, offering words of empathy as opposed to annoyance.
Notice the preposition used in the character trait: bearing the burden with your friend. Not instead. Not pushing away the burden or explaining it away. Simply being there together, avoiding unhelpful words in favor of validating and loving ones. Selflessly being willing to get down in the hole with your friend so you are in that dark place together.
Researcher Brene Brown talks about this idea in a short animated YouTube video about the difference between sympathy and empathy. When some falls into a dark hole, you can either yell down, “Hey! Are you alright?” and throw down a sandwich (save, solve and fix), or climb down into the hole and just sit together, saying, “I’m here with you’ it’s ok to be sad.” Now that’s how you share, care and encourage. And by shifting our words even in those small ways, we make a big booming difference in our families and communities.

This is an excerpt from Soul Construction by Ruchi Koval (

Ruchi Koval is the co-founder and Associate Director of Congregation JFX, an innovative community in Cleveland, Ohio. She has been a Jewish educator for two decades, leading self-development groups for adults and teens, and mentoring educators around the world. Ruchi is a certified parenting coach, motivational speaker, musician, author, and mother. She is a Trip Leader for Momentum, inspiring hundreds of women on their journeys in Israel.

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