As we head this coming week into the Nine Days that culminate in Tisha Be’av, the “black fast” of the Ninth of Av, this one phrase seems to encapsulate both the somber mood of the day and the primary cause of the catastrophe that brought down the Temple and resulted in our 2,000-year exile.
Hatred, as with all human emotions and traits, is double- edged. Like cholesterol, there are both good and bad permutations of it. In the famous words of Solomon’s Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) – not to mention the version by the Byrds! – there is a proper time to love, but also to hate.
If one hates evil, injustice, corruption or cruelty to others, he or she is exhibiting an exemplary moral code. Indeed, it is the lack of hate – expressed in either complicity or apathy toward the abuse of one’s fellow man – that allows such deviant, destructive behavior to exist and to flourish.
We Jews, unfortunately, are no strangers to the other, more common form of hatred, for it has plagued us since the very beginning of our existence. Say the rabbis: Esau hates Jacob – that is a Halacha, a given. And in a famous play on words, the Hebrew word sinai – as in Mount Sinai – is linked to sin’a (hatred), suggesting that the moment we received the Torah on that venerable mountain we elicited the intractable enmity of the nations.
This kind of hatred – the vicious, violent attack upon our beliefs and our bodies – has followed us across the globe and decimated our ranks. We experienced that hate when denied equal rights in society – from commerce to culture to country clubs – and we felt it when various popes and potentates forbade our practice of Judaism.
Of course, we saw it in its most malevolent form when the Nazis sought obsessively to hunt down and murder every Jewish man, woman and child. And we still see it today: at the 2001 Durban “Anti-Racism Conference” and at Palestinian rallies and BDS conventions, as huge crowds fanatically scream “Death to the Jews.”
This is a decidedly antisemitic phenomenon that the whole world must eradicate, if it is to survive as a sane and civil community.
But we Jews must also deal with hate; for we, too, have been infected with the disease, albeit in a much less violent form.
The phrase “baseless hatred” is somewhat perplexing. Does anyone really hate someone else for no reason whatsoever? The reason may be far-fetched, imagined, irrational or just plain absurd, but there is generally some reason attached. I suggest, therefore, that the meaning of sin’at hinam is exactly what the Hebrew words declare: the hatred, or disdain, for the hen of others.
This elusive word, often translated as “grace,” refers to the unique and individual makeup of each and every Jew. That is, each one of us has some special quality, strength, personality or accomplishment that only we possess, and that is all too often dismissed by others.
Only when we recognize that each person is specifically created by God and has intrinsic value, contributing to the world at large and to God’s overall design for the universe, do we reverse the negative and engage in ahavat hinam, the love of others’ very existence.
Recently, a story went viral concerning a well-known Bnei Brak rabbi who allowed an IDF soldier to receive an honor at his synagogue, despite the fact that he was dressed in army uniform. This was held up as a sign of the rabbi’s “tolerance.”
Excuse me?! The implication is that, had there not been an extenuating circumstance, the soldier would have been denied the honor – if allowed in the synagogue at all! If anything, the rabbi should have instructed his entire congregation to stand in reverence for this hero and for the uniform which represents the courage and glory of Israel.
If I have discerned anything at all about the Almighty, it is that God is color-blind, and not at all “clothes-minded.” He cares very little about the external features and fashions of His people. But he is mightily concerned about the inner makings of His subjects; what we believe in our hearts, what we think of the next person and what love, compassion, respect and kindness we show to those around us, particularly those in need of love and assistance, and particularly those who differ from our own set of circumstances.
Tellingly, the statement that we suffered – and still suffer – from this malady of sin’at hinam is found in the Talmudic tractate dealing with the laws of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The Ninth of Av, the final holiday of the summer, is the gateway to the High Holy Days. If we can somehow learn this great lesson of inclusivity, recognizing that we float or founder depending upon whether we sail together or apart, then we can truly face our Creator on the Day of Awe with calm, clarity and confidence. The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; email@example.com