Machlokes / Controversy

Jewish World Review July 26, 2001 / 6 Menachem-Av, 5761

Why we love to hate

By Jonathan Rosenblum -- NEARLY 2,000 years ago this Tisha B'Av, the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people sent into Exile as a consequence of sinas chinam --- a hatred of others not for anything particular they have done to us, but because their very existence impinges on our own. And just as a love that does not depend on anything tangible lasts forever, so hatred that has no specific cause is the most difficult to eradicate.

The Temple was the great symbol of Jewish unity, of all Jews bound together in common service to the Creator. Even today, every time a Jew anywhere in the world turns his heart towards G-d in prayer, he directs those prayers towards the Temple.

Nachmanides describes the Temple as reprise of Sinai. Just as Israel had to become like one person with one heart as a precondition for the receipt of the Torah, so was internal unity the precondition for the Temple.

As long as Jews turned their hearts to one another in love, like the two cherubim over the Aron HaKodesh (Holy Ark), then G-d related to His nation with that same love. And when we turned away from one another, then the Creator turned from us and hid His face. The physical destruction of the symbol of our unity was but the external manifestation of an inner spiritual division that had already taken place.

The Temple remains in ruins today; the cause of its destruction has not yet been rectified. The spasmodic outburst of hatred last week after President Katsav's reduction of Har-Shefi's sentence destroyed any optimism that ten months of war have brought the Jews of Israel closer together. An articulate left-wing spokesman in one radio debate turned with venom on Geula Cohen telling her, "The real division is not between Jew and Arab but between those of us on the Left and you on the Right.''

The "deep hatred'', described by Amnon Dankner, of the "Ashkenazi, secular, enlightened and liberal bourgeoisie . . . for anyone who is not part of this class -- Sefardim, and national religious, fervently-Orthodox and Rightists --'' boiled over. The reduction of sentence, in the eyes of that class, proved the former development town mayor's unsuitability for the presidency, which belongs to them by divine right.

Understanding the sinas chinam that continues to plague us requires a closer look at the initial sin from which all the tragedies of Tisha B'Av derive. After the Spies brought back their "evil report'' about the Land, the People wept that night in their tents. And for that "weeping without cause,'' we have been punished with much cause for weeping on that night: the destruction of both Temples, the expulsion from Spain.

Did those who had witnessed the plagues in Egypt, lived under the Clouds of Glory in the Desert, and eaten of manna from Heaven, really doubt G-d's power to bring them into the Land no matter how strong and powerful its inhabitants? Of course not.

What they doubted was their own worthiness. They realized that even after entering the Land they would be dependent on G-d's beneficence. Feeling unworthy of His love, they concluded that G-d sought to kill them at the hands of the Caananite nations.

All sinas chinam derives from similar feelings of unworthiness. Those who lack any confidence in themselves live their lives in constant comparison to others. They cast a critical eye on others so that they might feel better about themselves. The impulse to speak derogatorily of others reflects low self-esteem, which finds salve only in putting others down.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, founder of the Mussar (Jewish Ethics) Movement, once witnessed a boy pushing a playmate down in order to make himself taller. Reb Yisrael predicted that nothing would ever come of that boy. Had he tried instead to make himself taller instead by jumping up, said Reb Yisrael, there would have been hope.

Today we are all little boys pushing down our playmates. Religious Jews read the shocking statistics of school violence or of secular youth from well-to-do homes murdering complete strangers for thrills. Rather than crying, they experience a sense of smug satisfaction at the breakdown of secular society. And secular newspaper readers have an apparently insatiable desire for stories that will prove "the religious are no better.''

Sensing our own failures, we console ourselves that everybody else is doing worse. Our entire society is made up of people lacking a sense of positive achievement, who can sustain themselves only by cataloguing the failures of others.

Religious parents fearing that they have failed to instill their children with a deep love of Torah and mitzvos distract themselves by looking at others whose children have taken off their yarmulkes, or never wore them in the first place. Secular parents sensing that they have failed to pass on to their children any of the values on which they were raised avoid looking in the mirror by raging against "ultra-Orthodox" draft-dodgers in Israel.

The Torah cure for sinas chinam is to stop judging ourselves in comparison to others. For viewing others we need a benevolent eye that accentuates the positive. The critical, judgmental eye is best reserved for ourselves.

Acting on this insight, religious Jews around the world have in recent years used the days leading up to Tisha B'Av as ones of intense introspection and self-criticism. This week in Jerusalem more than 250 classes were organized in 38 neighborhoods on various aspects of proper and improper speech. Over 16,000 women attended mass evening gatherings devoted to this subject. Similar events took place on a smaller scale around Israel

Last Sunday, 10,000 Jews gathered in the Catskills to recite Tehillim (Psalms) on behalf of the Jews of Israel. On Tisha B'Av itself, 40,000 Jews in nearly 250 locations around the world, will view a video produced by he Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation devoted to avoidance of disputes.

Those participating harbor no illusions that strife and lashon hara (slander) will be eradicated any time in the near future or that their efforts will obviate the need for a strong army. But they are confident that no act of spiritual elevation goes unrewarded. It will be enough if one more suicide bomber experiences second thoughts or even one more bullet misses its mark.

All those who do not participate in rebuilding the Temple, a process that begins with spiritual rectification, are judged as if they destroyed it. Let us join the builders.

JWR contributor Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Israeli director of Am Echad. He can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2001, Jonathan Rosenblum Distributed by Am Eachad Resources<