Divrei Hillel (Words of Hillel)

GRATUITOUS HATRED – HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING

IN TWO THOUSAND YEARS?

            This past Saturday, July 25, coincided with the ninth day of the month of Av on the Hebrew calendar.  That date, known in Hebrew as Tisha B’Av, is traditionally a day of mourning, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the First by the Babylonians in the year 586 b.c.e; the Second by the Romans in the year 70 c.e.  (Because the tradition does not permit mourning on Shabbat, this year’s observance was held on Sunday.)

            The two foci of the traditional observance of this day are one of the two 24-hour fasts in our ritual year (no points for naming the other one, we should all know it!); and the reading of the biblical Book of Lamentations.  That book is a litany of truly awful images of suffering and loss, a one-day immersion in the horrors of Jewish history. 

            Along with the destruction of the two Temples, the rabbis of our tradition have managed to fold into this day of mourning a number of other tragedies in our past, including the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.  The only such event that has been given its own day on our liturgical calendar is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day; according to some religious authorities, the Holocaust is still too fresh in our memory to not have its own day.

            There are many in Israel, and elsewhere, who have proposed that, since the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in 1948, there is no more reason to observe this day of anguish.  Others believe that we must continue to remember what we have endured, because those experiences have made us who we are as a people.

            I agree with that last position.  But there is another reason as well:  the Talmud teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sin’at ḥinam, gratuitous hatred (Tractate Yoma p. 9b).  This has been explained as the various Jewish factions in Jerusalem during the last Roman siege of the city and Temple being so intent on fighting with other Jewish factions over who was the better Jew, that they were not able to unite against the Romans.  There is good reason to believe that, even if they had been able to unite in defense of Jerusalem and the Temple, they would have lost to the Legions anyway.  But the teaching is nevertheless valid:  we waste so much time and energy on arguing who is a ‘better’ or a ‘real’ Jew that we could end up destroying ourselves in the end.

            And we seem to have not learned a thing as a people in the 2,000 years since the destruction of the Second Temple!

            Ya’ir Lapid is a centrist politician in Israel and a former journalist.  He put this lesson very well in a piece he wrote for an Israeli publication in honor of Tisha B’Av:

            The sad truth of the human race is that we love to hate. It gives us a feeling of power, it brings us closer to our peers, it saves us from the need to rethink our stances every day because who can be bothered.

            Instead, we look at the other side and say to ourselves that if they are so horribly disgusting then we must be right.

            This is why our ancestors, who were wiser than we are, gave us Tisha B'Av. They wanted to remind us that, if the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, then once a year, on this day, we need to check all our hatreds anew. Are they justified? Are they not blinding us? Do we know how to look past them and see our brothers and sisters as fellow human beings?

            Hatred is free. Love is not.

            Love is bound up in courage, in leaving our comfort zone, in the ability to truly see the other.

            Hatred comes easily. Love with great difficulty. Why? Because it forces us to think again about those who are on the other side, who are different than we are, who we put in a box so we wouldn't have to think about them.

            To hate someone else, we have to push them away.

            To love them, we have to bring ourselves closer.

            I didn’t have time to organize an observance of Tisha B’Av this year while getting settled here in Fort Collins; next year I hope to do so. 

            Although many in the Reform Movement see little importance in observing this day, I think it is worth getting together and learning from.  We can’t know who we are, and where we are going, unless we know where we came from.