Love and hate in the time of corona

Hate ultimately consumes and convicts the hater himself.

WHAT WE need now: Love in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
WHAT WE need now: Love in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some, but for everyone.
This sentiment was first expressed by Jackie DeShannon in her Grammy Award-winning song in 1965, but we sure could use a reprise of it today. Sad to say, as one frenetic election winds down in America and another – gulp! – may be rearing its ugly head here in Israel, hate is in vogue while love is in rather short supply.
The Trump-Biden contest (or was it a war?) brought out the worst in both politicians and their supporters. Every slur in the book – from “demented,” “senile,” “pathetic” to “misogynist,” “evil,” even “Hitler-like” – was slung by the candidates at each other. The president’s diatribes made even his closest followers cringe and look away, praying that policy, not put-downs, would dominate the discussion.
At the same time, the wild rampage by the challenger’s supporters as they hurled every possible obscenity – along with rotten eggs – at Rudy Giuliani’s motorcade last month (watch the video if you have a strong stomach) was every bit as disgusting as the antisemitic thugs who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia.
What came across was not criticism, not even acrimony, but pure, unadulterated hate. Criticism is acceptable, even necessary in a national debate. Sentiments, even when strident, are one’s right and privilege. Note that distinguished Gush Etzion Rabbis Moshe Lichtenstein and Shlomo Riskin were at opposite poles; one assailed the president while the other sang his praises.
But hate is beyond the pale, and the hateful level to which the parties’ followers sank was not just embarrassing, it was downright frightening. Because hate is irrational, uncontrollable and totally destructive, it only solidifies one’s mindset to a point of no return, to where no other ideas can penetrate. At the same time, hate ultimately consumes and convicts the hater himself.
Here in Israel we have our own brand of homemade hate. Protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while totally legitimate and the hallmark of all free societies, inevitably deteriorate into diatribe and demonization that are personal rather than political attacks. I have a friend whose luck it is to live across the street from Jerusalem’s main protest site, and he’s hardly had a good night’s sleep in months. When I asked a protester who was violating the city’s order to disperse before midnight if he cared that the neighbors’ rights were being violated, he angrily blew his horn in my face and shouted, “Our cause outweighs anyone’s privacy!” Jewish sources take a dim view of hatred. Hillel taught (Shabbat 31) that the essence of the entire Torah is, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others,” all else being “commentary.” Hatred of one’s fellow creatures “drives a man out of this world” (Avot 2:16); and one who hates his fellow is considered a murderer.
INDEED, THE Temple was destroyed because of gratuitous hatred (the famous story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza) and is equated with the three paramount sins of idolatry, immorality and murder (Yoma 9b). There are, of course, certain exceptions. The Torah does adjure us to hate corruption and evil, and it would be quite commendable if the Balfour Street protesters dedicated some of their anger and energy to marching against the Palestinian terrorists in Gaza who shower rockets on our civilians and refuse to release the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
However, the rabbis make it clear that the true object of proper hatred is the sin, and not the sinner, whose life must be respected and whose repentance effected. Beruryah admonished her husband, Rabbi Meir, for cursing a group of hooligans who were harassing him. She urged him rather to pray that the sinners abandon their evil ways.
To a much greater extent, the Torah preaches love. Rabbi Akiva’s famous dictum, V’Ahavta l’rayecha kamocha (“You shall love your neighbor as you do yourself”) is considered an “elastic clause” of the Torah and contains within it numerous mitzvot. God is a God of love, and commands us to spread that love to everyone we encounter, even, perhaps especially, the “stranger” with whom we may think we have little in common. While God can ignore or excuse the indiscretions shown to Him, He insists that we repair our relationships with those around us – with love.
To that end, I would like to offer a love-ly proposal to our readers, one that I suggested to our own community a short time ago.
In next week’s Torah portion, Yakov declares that he will offer a tenth of his income to help others. This concept of ma’aser (tithing) remains one of Judaism’s most beautiful and uplifting traditions. I would like to urge all of us to consider using some of that ma’aser money to assist businesses and individuals – those we would not normally patronize or support – that are struggling mightily to stay solvent in the current coronavirus crisis.
Do you normally get takeaway food from restaurants? If not, then make an exception and order out, using some of your ma’aser funds. Do you usually buy flowers for your spouse or the widow who lives upstairs before Shabbat? If not, then do it now, with ma’aser money. Do you ever take taxis instead of driving your own car to various places? If not, then consider doing so with part of your ma’aser money. The possibilities are unlimited for you to help prop up those struggling to survive financially, and there is no better use of ma’aser funds than helping to keep others on their financial feet, even if you tangentially benefit in the process.
I’ve discussed this issue with several authorities in Halacha. They concur that in this extraordinary time, this exceptional use of ma’aser to help those in need is appropriate and halachically warranted. Rav Chaim Kanievsky writes that supporting businesses is one of the highest forms of tzedakah (charity), as it helps a continuous chain of people along with the owner. The only condition is that the funds should be used for something you would not normally purchase.
It’s a win-win situation and sends the message that a little bit of love goes a long, long way.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. [email protected]