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Reflections on the Meaning of Baseless Hatred and Tisha B' Av

By Sarah Z. Lederstein

Tisha B'av, the day our first and then, again, our second Beit Hamikdosh/Temple was destroyed, is designated as a day of mourning for Jews throughout the world. We fast, read Eicha (The Book of Lamentations), and refrain from music or other joyful activities. Indeed, many additional tragedies fell upon the Jews on the ninth day of Av.. This day in the Hebrew calendar is therefor a symbol of sadness for us.

Yet it need not be so. G-d has let us know why the temples were destroyed and has even given us the means whereby they can be rebuilt. If someone were to tell a sick person that his cure was obtainable, would he not take it immediately? We know what we have to do but still remain without a temple. Why? Because we have not ceased engaging in the actions that caused the destruction, namely, baseless hatred. I am referring to hatred towards our fellow Jews, specifically. Only G-d can eradicate the baseless hatred that other nations have used against us. The reason we cannot stop that kind of hatred towards us is because it is not based on our changing anything. It is without reason. However, we, as individuals can and must eliminate the hatred we feel for another Jew which is groundless, unprovoked, and emanates from our own souls. By doing so, we become worthy of a third Holy Temple.

We are all too familiar with baseless hatred towards us from our outside enemies - from Haman in the Book of Esther on Purim to Hitler in Nazi Germany, in our own generation. But that is not the baseless hatred which I refer to and which we must erase in our midst. That is the hatred which Eisov has for Yaakov, as illustrated in our Torah. It has been taught that God uses that hatred as a tool when it is deemed unavoidable for our tikun hanefesh ( to purify our soul).

The world is grappling with baseless hatred in its many forms. This seed of destruction is called bigotry or prejudice. Entire groups of people are hated for no reason other than their origin of birth to a particular race, religion, or nationality. The world has witnessed the annihilation of millions of humans based not on their actions as individuals but on their chance of birth into one group of people versus another. In Africa we know of Rwanda and Darfor, as Jews we are aware of the Holocaust and the hatred that emanates from terrorists against innocent babies and other Jews, and the list goes on of endless, needless, baseless hatred, that causes death and mourning with no cessation in sight. But that is not the topic of this essay, though related.

G-d will save us, via our merit and His mercy, from our enemies. It is not G-d's will to destroy us. The creation of the rainbow in Noah's era, following the flood, is an indication of G-d's vow to us that He will refrain from destroying the world. What we need to concentrate on is stopping the baseless hatred from within our own nation for one Jew to another, or one group of Jews for another.

What exactly constitutes baseless hatred anyway? As an ordinary Orthodox Jewish woman whose credentials do not include high scholarly erudition into all aspects of Judaism (as is more common of today's seminary graduates), I still have my own notions. I believe any one who has been abused or mistreated without any cause has been subjected to baseless hatred or thoughtlessness. We need to recognize it for what it is. When we take out our anger on someone who has not warranted our anger, that too is baseless hatred. When we have a bad day, does that justify our mistreating a neighbor, a relative, our children, a school child, or a spouse? However, it is so common as to be tolerated, expected and excusable. It is anticipated and considered understandable. But is it, really? Not to the bewildered child who is yelled at in the classroom because her/his teacher had a bad day at home. Not to the neighbor who was not comforted during the seven days of Shiva because we overlooked the opportunity to perform a mitzva. Not to the spouse who we have no patience for after our energy was depleted during work. Sometimes we ignore hatred by stating, "It is not meant personally." But how can it not be personal? The child is left dejected, the husband or wife feels ignored, and the neighbor who is grieving is not comforted. It is personal. It may not be intentional but the affect is hurtful just the same. And can we honestly say it matters to us when we do this or do we explain it away as just human nature? Each and every small act of kindness is noted by the Almighty. Each instance that we neglect an opportunity to do a kindness or G-d forbid, do something harmful to another Jew, is also noted. When we are able to tip the balance in our favor as a Jewish Nation and perform more acts of kindness towards our fellow Jews than cause harm to them, then we will be guided on the road leading to the rebuilding of our Holy Temple. It may not be one enormous mitzva that is needed, but rather many ordinary acts of kindness. Eliminating baseless hatred by being civil and considerate to our fellow Jews will provide the environment needed to have a Beit Hamikdosh/Temple in our midst once more. By each of us changing our ordinary every day lives into ones where we seek out opportunities of Chesed and act upon them, we may eliminate the barrier that prevents the Holy Temple from being rebuilt. It won't be easy, but it will be worth the effort.

Baseless hatred of one group of Jews towards another group is another aspect of our problem. Labels and misconceptions abound regarding one group of Jews about another. The secular and the Chasidic groups, the Yeshiva and the Modern Orthodox, etc., all the various groupings must work with each other to fend off our true enemy - baseless hatred. If we cannot approve of each other it only adds fuel to the fire for our outside enemies. That is another matter we must work on diligently. United we can stand.

The temple will be rebuilt, G-d willing, in due time. We need faith. We can help build it stone by stone through our individual deeds. That is our task. Let us begin.


from the July 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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