Tisha B’Av is now behind us. Once again, we thought about why we didn’t merit the Final Redemption, and once again we pledged to do something about the primary cause of the churban: sinat chinam.
And yet, if one looks at the state of world affairs, the problem of sinat chinam seems worse than ever. Sinat chinam is often translated as baseless hatred, but who – leaving psychopaths aside – hates another person baselessly? Ordinary people usually have a reason for hating someone.
To better understand sinas chinam, let’s review some of the events that led to the churban:
1) In 63 BCE, the righteous Shlomzion Hamalka succeeded her evil husband Yannai and appointed her eldest son Hyrcanus II to succeed her. This arrangement did not sit well with her younger son Aristobulus II, so he went to war to overthrow his brother.
To make a long story short, Aristobulus took refuge in the Beis HaMikdash, and the forces of Hyrcanus laid siege outside. According to Josephus, they implored Choni haMe’agel (known for the remarkable power of his prayers) to daven for their success against Aristobulus. When he refused, they killed him.
In fact, they were so consumed with hatred that despite the tremendous amount of money they were offered to supply a Korban Tamid every day to Aristobulus’s forces, Hyrcanus’s camp decided to forgo the funds at a certain point and sent a pig (on the 17th of Tammuz) to Aristobulus’s forces instead.
In the end, both brothers appealed to the Romans to help them, and once the Romans intervened, they never left, ultimately leading to the destruction.
2) During the reign of Nero around 68 CE, a person accidentally invited his enemy Bar Kamtza instead of his friend Kamtza to a feast he was hosting. The host hated Bar Kamtza so much and was so infuriated by his presence that – despite being offered enough money to cover the expense of the entire feast – he ejected him and humiliated him.
3) A year or two later, one faction of Jews so hated their opponents’ policy of appeasement that they burned down storehouses of food that would have enabled Jerusalem’ residents to withstand a siege of many years.
I believe these awful stories have a common thread. All three concern people who are so consumed with hatred that they (a) act against their own self-interest and (b) are unwilling to grant any possible credence to anything their opponents say or do.
Society around us is bristling with this sort of hatred. In Israel, Netanyahu can do nothing right to his critics, while his supporters see only evil in his political opponents. In America, it’s far worse. The level of hatred and intolerance for anything involving President Trump is fanatical. Anything and everything Trump does is evil, hateful, racist, and nonsensical – no matter what.
For Trump’s supporters, the Left has lost its collective mind, supports insane policies, and is motivated only by hatred, power, and reverse racism. Nothing it does or suggests is worthy of any consideration.
The level of hatred and distrust between the two sides is so great that former friends don’t talk, families are ripped apart, and people are afraid of speaking their mind lest they, their families, and their businesses be destroyed.
Is this baseless hatred? Everyone I know would be able to explain in precise detail why they hate the other side so much. But I believe this hatred is still sinas chinam because the two factors outlined above are present.
1) People are acting against their self-interest. Take what has happened over the past two months in Portland, a place I used to proudly call home. The riots have caused tremendous damage to the city and benefit no one. But the rioters are so consumed with hatred that they are willing to destroy a city and institutions that might help them. Nationwide, Black Lives Matters vandals have hurt blacks far more than whites, but they don’t seem to care.
The right is also acting against its self-interest. By totally demonizing the leftist activists and making needlessly provocative statements, President Trump and his supporters have, in many cases, stoked and inflamed instead of defused.
2) Both sides also refuse to see any good in the other. To any neutral observer, it should be manifestly evident that President Trump – despite endless hostility and opposition from the Democrats – has managed to rack up many major achievements. Conversely, despite the presence of many insane ideas coming from the left, it proposes many good ideas that could improve the country.
Perhaps, then, sinas chinam doesn’t mean baseless hatred, but rather needless hatred. The hatred has a basis, but it’s taken beyond all reasonable bounds.
Such hatred even exists in Orthodox communities. There may be justified reasons for one side to resent, dislike, and perhaps even, heaven forbid, hate the other side. But when the hatred grows so intense that each side tries to destroy the other even against its own self-interest and refuses to see any redeeming quality in the other, we have needless hatred.
Add religious indignation to the mix and this needless hatred reaches extremely toxic levels. With these levels, we stand no chance of meriting the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.
As we live through these weeks of nechama, let’s remember that “nechama” doesn’t just mean comfort or consolation. It also means reconsidering (see, for example, Bereishis 6:6a and Shemos 32:14). So we need to reconsider how we regard and act towards those with whom we disagree. We need to reflect more, hit “send” less quickly, and respond less to provocations.
If we do so, perhaps we can enter Elul with hope for a far better year ahead when we can put some of this needless hatred behind us.