Baseless Hatred and the Destruction of the Temple
By Eliezer Cohen, © 2005
The period between the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av is a period that is set aside for mourning and reflection on the tragedy that befell our nation. It was during this period that we lost the holy Temple and were eventually exiled for two thousand years to wander through alien nations, lands and cultures. This period is just beginning to end as G-d in His great kindness has begun to bring His children back to His promised land and allowed them to resettle once more in the land that He promised to give to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The calamity of two thousand years in the exile requires understanding. What was the cause of such a harsh punishment? Not only that, we had two Temples and a 70 year interruption in between them. Each Temple stood for approximately 400 years. This is quite a long time considering that the United States of America has not even existed 300 years! The total time that we had a Temple was over eight hundred years combined!
Yet both were destroyed.
The first exile was only for seventy years and this, the second exile has continued for almost two thousand years. Why is this second exile so much longer than the exile during the destruction of the first Temple? What is the divine purpose in such a long humiliating exile, where Jews are abandoned to the whims of each of many various countries in which they are forced to take refuge?
The answer can be found in the words of the sages who told us that the first Temple was destroyed because of three things: sexual immorality, widespread murder and idolatry. The second Temple was destroyed because of one reason: baseless hatred (sinat chinam).
Sexual immorality, murder and idolatry are three grave sins for which a person is obliged to give his life rather than transgress. Baseless hatred is not considered such a severe sin. For the sin of sexual immorality, murder and idolatry the Jews had their Temple destroyed and were exiled for a period of only seventy years. After this period, they came back to their land and rebuilt the second Temple which stood another 400 plus years.
Yet for the comparatively minor sin of baseless hatred the second Temple was destroyed and we were exiled for almost two thousand years! The punishment seems out of proportion to the crime!!
In order to speed up the final redemption in a manner in which we should never be banished again, it is necessary for us to understand the underlying principle that caused us such a long exile.
The explanation can be understood by way of an allegory. In prisons, there are two types of criminals: One type of criminal has committed a crime because of an overwhelming desire for something, as an example, for the rapist, it is his sex, for the burglar, it is money, etc. The second type of criminal is one who has committed a crime because he believed that he was correct, that the money, etc, was rightfully his. Political criminals fall into this category. They disobey the law because they believe that they, and not the system, are right.
In reality a prison sentence will help the first type of criminal. A person who commits a crime from passion will realize that he is wrong once his passion or desire cools down. A person who commits a crime out of a feeling that he is correct will never be rehabilitated since he did not act out of passion but out of an inner conviction of being right cooling down will not stop his action. It may even cause him to continue to justify his wounded sense of righteousness.
A person who acts improperly out of anger will admit his mistake once he cools down. Therefore when some one has lost his "temper", the best action is to take time out to cool down. But a person who acts according to his inner conviction that he is correct will never admit his mistake. He believes that the other person or the government is wrong. What mistake is there to admit? He thinks that you are wrong, not him!
When we think about the people during the time of the first Temple, their excesses in the sins of sexual immorality, murder and idolatry were for reasons of unbridled passion. Sexual immorality was due to their desire to experience greater pleasures. Murder was committed to eliminate those who stood to restrict their desires for money and powers. Even the practice of idolatry, considered as the gravest sin, was practiced only to justify their perverted desires.
For people such as these, the punishment of losing the Temple and the exile of seventy years was a sufficient cooling off period to give them the proper outlook on life. Once they came back to their senses, G-d enabled them to return into the holy land and build the second Temple.
Yet for the relatively minor sin of baseless hatred we are now two thousand years in exile. Why?
Baseless hatred is different than just plain hatred. Plain hatred has a reason. For example, you hate a person who causes you financial loss or physical discomfort. But if you were to remove the cause (he were to pay you back, etc), you would have no reason to hate him.
Baseless hatred is different. Why should someone hate another if he is not threatened or damaged by him? Baseless hatred does not even require a relationship between two people. Baseless hatred is caused not by the other person's action but by a sub-conscious mechanism within the one who hates.
This person wants to feel that he is the center of his universe. It is his ego, his essential being, that demands everyone's attention. He craves the feeling of self importance. So when another person's mere presence threatens to diminish the importance of his being in his own eyes, then he will hate this person.
We can call him an ego centered person, but in reality he is worse.
A person like this is basically saying that he is the center of the world. All that exists revolves around him. Any one who threatens his feeling of importance is suspect. This is the root of baseless hatred.
Why did this cause the Temple's destruction and our lengthy exile? To a person like this even G-d Himself is of secondary importance. Of course he admits that G-d does exist. He may even be a very religious man. But for him, he is the center of the universe, not G-d.
This was the sin of sins! Because of this sin, we have stripped G-d and our fellow man of their singular importance in the world. We have made them into secondary players in our personal world in which we are the star. My friend exists for me. G-d exists for me.
We are in this long exile to learn that there is nothing other than G-d. It is not enough to say that G-d exists. We must know and feel that He is the true existence and we are just passing shadows in the history of absurdity.
Once we realize our correct place in this universe, then we have a chance of regaining our Temple. We have a chance to live together as brothers, and of sharing with each other. Then there will be peace in the world.