Latest update: May 20th, 2013
QUESTION: Our Sages strongly condemned sinat chinam – yet at times, good resulted from it. For example, when the sons of Yaakov went down to Egypt many years after selling their brother, they were treated royally.
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Thus we see that the Torah itself places the concept of love of one’s fellowman on par with the fear of G-d. Rashi (ibid.) cites Rabbi Akiva’s comment: Amar Rabbi Akiva, Zeh kelal gadol baTorah. Rabbi Akiva says that this – loving your fellow as yourself ? is a fundamental principle in the Torah. This saying of R. Akiva is also quoted in the Babylonian Talmud (Nedarim 9:4) as well as in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 24,7). The Midrash refers to R. Akiva’s saying in connection with the creation of Adam, who was made in the image of G-d.
The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) relates the incident of a heathen who wished to convert. He first approached the sage Shammai and said to him: Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai rejected him. The heathen then approached the sage Hillel with the same request, and Hillel told him, “De’alach snei, lechav’rach la ta’aveid; zohi kol haTorah kulah, ve’idach peirushah hu; zil gemor – What is hateful to you do not do to your fellowman: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.” We have to learn from this principle and apply it to the entire Torah. We infer from this episode that Hillel met with great success in regard to this proselyte as well as other proselytes, especially in light of the complete text of the Gemara (ibid.), which praises Hillel’s infinite patience.
A related concept in the Talmud is the statement (Shevu’ot 39a), “Kol Yisrael areivin zeh bazeh,” all Jews are guarantors one for another. This statement is preceded by a debate concerning the seriousness of the sin of taking G-d’s name in vain, i.e., swearing falsely, which is weighed as equivalent to all the other transgressions in the Torah, and the question whether the person committing the sin is punished alone or the whole world [of Israel] is punished along with him. The Gemara concludes that for any transgression – not only taking G-d’s name in vain – the sinner and all the other members of the nation of Israel are punished because Jews are responsible for one another, “Kol Yisrael areivin zeh bazeh.” They should therefore have done everything possible to prevent the wrongdoing.
My uncle Harav Sholom Klass, zt”l, explains that Yaakov’s sons not only should have been punished, but they should have been rebuked as well.
Yet when the brothers encounter Yosef (Genesis 45:3-15), their meeting ends in heartwarming tears and embraces and the brothers are given the very treatment that normally would have been reserved for royalty in Egypt.
Indeed, what the brothers did was wrong and they should have been punished, but it was the reaction of Yosef - ahavat chinam – that replaced punishment with reward. My uncle explains that ahavat chinam far outweighs sinat chinam.
Thus we see that no man is an island unto himself, but we are part of one entity. We must love one another just as we love our own limbs and organs, for we are indeed connected like the various limbs of one body. In retrospect, we realize that it was sinat chinam, unfounded hatred, that brought about the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem. The antidote, ahavat chinam (gratuitous love) or better yet, ahavat Yisrael, love of all of Israel, will deliver us from our long exile and prepare the arrival of Melech HaMashiach, who will rebuild our Holy Temple speedily, in our days.
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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