Matot-Masei: Conquering baseless hatred


We are now approaching the end of the Three Weeks, the saddest period of the Jewish year. It concludes with Tisha b’Av, commemorating the destruction of two Holy Temples.

In an oft-quoted Talmudic passage, our Sages famously ask, “Why were the two Holy Temples destroyed?” Their answer informs every aspect of Jewish life until today:

“Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three things: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed … But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah…? Because sinat chinam, baseless hatred, prevailed. This teaches you that groundless hatred is considered equal to idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together” (Yoma 9b).

In sum, the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam — even though our ancestors got everything else right. Moreover, hatred creates such a toxic environment that it is equal to idol worship, immorality, and murder combined — the three cardinal sins for which individuals must give up their lives rather than violate.

If sinat chinam was the poison that destroyed the second Beit Hamikdash, it stands to reason that love of all Jews is the necessary antidote. This may very well be the reason that Rabbi Akiva famously declared that the words “And you should love your fellow Jew as yourself” are the most overarching principle of the Torah (Nedarim 9:4).

Rabbi Akiva’s dictum is reminiscent of a passage in Shabbat 31a. “A certain non-Jew came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.’ [Shammai] threatened him with the builder’s tool in his hand. [In contrast,] Hillel said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor — that is the whole Torah; the rest is the commentary. Go and learn!’” 

In his Torah commentary Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz explains that the responses of Shammai and Hillel stemmed from two very different perceptions of the non-Jew who came before them. Whereas Shammai thought he was acting in a disrespectful manner, Hillel perceived him as a would-be ger tzedek who had approached him in an authentic fashion:

“For in truth, [the potential ger] honestly sought from him the pillar of Torah upon which all the mitzvot stand, in order that he not fall into the grip of forgetfulness that might be found in a convert who had not learned anything about Torah during his youth. Therefore, he asked [Hillel] to transmit one overriding principle that encapsulates the entire Torah … in order that he would be able to remember all of the mitzvot” (Commentary to Vayikra 19:18).

Based upon the statements of Hillel, Rabbi Akiva and the analysis of the Kli Yakar, ahavat Yisrael emerges as one of Judaism’s ultimate values. On measure, it is the most effective means of counteracting sinat chinam. How can we perform ahavat Yisrael in our daily lives?

We are fortunate that the Rambam provides us with a clear response that incorporates both positive action, and Hillel’s meta-axiom of Torah behavior: “We are commanded to love others in the same manner that we love ourselves. My mercy and love for my brother should be exactly like the mercy and love I have for myself … and everything that I wish for myself, I should desire for him. [Conversely,] anything that I would hate for myself or for anyone who associates with me, I should find hateful to him in the exact same fashion” (Sefer Hamitzvot, Positive Commandment 206).

In sum, the Rambam urges us to be considerate and caring of others in precisely the same manner we would like to be treated. We must ever be on guard against behaviors that would be hateful to both others and ourselves.

I believe that if we fulfill the mitzvah of ahavat Yisrael on an ongoing basis, we will be well on our way to ending sinat chinam in our time. Moreover, we will set the stage for the imminent arrival of the Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, soon and in our days.