Senseless Hatred – Cause and Cure

BY RABBI DORON PEREZ

How is it possible to be genuinely kind to someone and to hate them at the same time? How is it possible to learn Torah and fulfill mitzvot, yet somehow harbor feelings of hatred for others? Remarkably, the Talmud discusses this very point regarding the generation of the destruction of the Second Temple:

“During the Second Temple period the people occupied themselves with Torah, mitzvot and loving kindness. Why, then, was the Temple destroyed? Because they acted with sinat chinam – senseless hatred” (Yoma 9b).

Indeed, the generation of the churban (destruction) is described by the Sages as one occupied with Torah learning, mitzvot and loving kindness. How could such a lofty generation also be guilty of causeless hatred?

The Netziv of Volozhin explains: “As a result of the senseless hatred in their hearts that one harbored for the other, they suspected all those who did not follow their path as a G-d-fearing Jew of being a Sadducee and a heretic” (HaAmek Davar, Introduction to Bereishit).

The Netziv suggests that the generation of the churban showed loving kindness to their own communities, but not to other communities. They believed that only their community’s way of serving G-d was authentic, while all the others were suspected of perverting the Torah and G-d’s will. They loved and cared for those who shared their philosophy and traditions, but rejected those who did not. 

Prior to the destruction, sectarianism reigned supreme. The nation divided itself into many distinct sects – the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots and Sicarii – and even more sub-factions within these sects. The people showed endless kindness to members of their own factions, but scorned and hated those whose values and beliefs threatened their own. They saw the world in black and white; there was no middle road. It was a zero-sum game of ideological intolerance. The hatred and infighting in Jerusalem was so disastrous on the eve of destruction that Josephus described the society as “a great body torn in pieces” (The Jewish War, Book 5:1).

This was the causeless hatred that led to destruction.

Sons of light and sons of darkness

How do disagreements deteriorate into such deep hatred?

The Second Temple era War Scroll, found near the Dead Sea in the caves of Qumran, suggests an answer. The text, likely written by the Essenes, describes its followers as “the sons of light” and all others – including fellow Jews – as “the sons of darkness”. 

Language like this changes the rules of discourse. When we use words like these, we are no longer debating views or ideas, but rather delegitimizing the other as a person. These phrases cause a debate of ideas to devolve into vicious ad hominem attacks against other people. It’s no longer about right and wrong, but about you and me. All who think and act like me are “good” and bring spiritual light and morality to the world, while all who disagree with me are “bad” and immoral, the cause of spiritual darkness. When I am absolutely right and you are absolutely wrong, when the other is totally disqualified and considered part of “the dark side”, we are treading dangerously close to the abyss of senseless hatred. 

Never-ending elections

We are deeply blessed to be living in a renewed and independent Jewish state. At the same time, our people are struggling with many internal and external challenges – extremely divisive issues that touch on the very essence of Jewish life and destiny. This is particularly true today as we prepare for a fifth election in under four years. For the last four years, the electorate has been split down the middle, unable to form a stable ruling majority.

This troubling reality has eroded our sense of unity. The ongoing elections not only cost billions of shekels and make sustainable governance impossible but they are also having a damaging and corrosive effect on the country’s societal cohesion. When parties are in constant “election mode”, they remain forever focused on the shortcomings of political opponents and seek to sharpen their differences in order to differentiate themselves and attract votes. This is true during the internal party primaries and then again in the national elections, leading to a continuous culture of criticism and condemnation. 

At the same time, differences of opinion have become so intense that debates quickly descend into delegitimization, demonization and sometimes even blatant hatred. There is little respectful and democratic discourse anymore; we have lost even a basic sense of derech eretz and civility in our political interactions.

The cause of divisiveness is clear. But what is the cure?

In search of national peacemakers

“Aharon the kohen ascended Hor Hahar and died there in the fortieth year… in the fifth month on the first of the month” (Bamidbar 33:38). The Torah makes a point of telling us that Aharon passed away on Rosh Chodesh Av – the only yahrzeit date explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Remarkably, this date is recorded in Parashat Masei, which is read every year around the time of Rosh Chodesh Av.

None of this, of course, is coincidence. The Torah is charging us to recall the life and legacy of Aharon HaKohen as we begin observing the Nine Days of mourning for the Temple. At this time of year, when we reflect on the spiritual cause of the churban, we must think of Aharon. Aharon is the antidote to the culture of our time, when disqualifying and canceling others is de rigueur, Aharon shows us the way forward.

More than anyone else in Jewish history, it is Aharon’s personal example, qualities and expertise that are needed most in our time. At the very dawn of our national history, he was the “national peacemaker”, doing everything in his power to encourage peace and harmony among his fellow Jews regardless of their prior differences and painful disagreements.

Today, we are in desperate need of national peacemakers in the spirit of Aharon – bridge builders and unifiers who can overcome divisions and polarizing politics. Unity does not require uniformity and differences need not lead to disqualification. We need leaders who passionately but respectfully argue for their own views without vilifying others. We must reject the language of “sons of light” and “sons of darkness” and remember that objective truth can include diverse views and beliefs. Rabbinic teachings are replete with such famous principles as “70 facets of the Torah” and “both opinions are those of the living G-d”. The Torah has multiple facets, interpretations and opinions, all of which can contain truth. 

In this edition of HaMizrachi we focus on the relationship between the Religious Zionist and Charedi communities and that which both separates and unites us. It is our hope and prayer to encourage a discourse concerning our ideological disagreements in a spirit of profound Ahavat Yisrael, for our bonds of love and camaraderie far outweigh our disagreements. We must never forget that we share a common destiny.

“If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love, with ahavat chinam” (Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, Orot HaKodesh III, 324).

 

Rabbi Doron Perez is the Executive Chairman of World Mizrachi. 

© 2022 World Mizrachi

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