When we are attacked and hurt, it does not come easy to be caring rather than spiteful. We struggle to let go of our hatred when we direct it toward one who has become an enemy. Painfully, we cling to our animosity with even greater passion when it is directed toward those who had once been to us “as one flesh.”
In parshat Ki Tetzei, Moshe admonishes, “…do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother.” Here, he is making clear that even an estranged brother who has wronged you is still your brother. But then, in a leap hard for many to grasp, the Torah teaches, “Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land.” (23:8)
What? The Egyptians were not brothers; they enslaved us! The Egyptian king commanded, “…every male Israelite born be thrown into the Nile!” Not hate an Egyptian? How can we recall our experience in Egypt and not hate an Egyptian?
When I studied at Yeshiva University, everyone rushed to the cafeteria after morning class, so we could eat before the afternoon shiur. Mr. Weber, a gentle Holocaust survivor, admonished us as we bumped and shoved, “Move the line, move the line” (only the way he said it was more like “Move de line.”)
Over my many years, his refrain has become integral to my life’s philosophy. To me, he was not simply moving us along. He was teaching us not to get stuck in a tough spot and, by extension, not to remain mired in the bitterness of the inevitable challenges and disappointments we all face; not to bear grudges for the rest of our lives.
“Moving the line” came to mean letting go of the negatives that inhibit us; letting go of the things that humiliate us, that degrade us – that enslave us. Hurt begets hurt. Anger begets anger. Hate begets hate. It is not until we can let go of those things that we are truly free.
After all, if your “captor” allows you to go free, the least you can do is grant yourself the same grace! As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l, eloquently teaches, “To be free, you have to let go of hate. That is what Moshe is saying here. If they continued to hate their erstwhile enemies, Moshe would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites. Mentally, they would still be there, slaves to the past. They would still be in chains, not of metal but of the mind – and chains of the mind are the most constricting of all.”
Yetziat mitzrayim… we remember Egypt on Shabbat, when laying tefillin, putting on our tzitzit or reciting the ancient truths at our Seder. Remember. The truth is, this mitzvah to recall Yetziat Mitzrayim contains no hate, no rage, no call for revenge. Not a shred of negativity. Just the positive: Remember!
Remember. Learn. Grow.
Move the line.
Rav Soloveitchik views our Egyptian bondage as the “…experience which molded the moral quality of the Jewish people for all time.” Rather than embitter us, our experience in Egypt and subsequent emancipation teaches us not to hate; it teaches us “…ethical sensitivity, what it truly means to be a Jew. It sought to transform the Jew into a rachaman, one possessing a heightened form of ethical sensitivity and responsiveness.”
The most practical method of teaching compassion and imparting a sense of mitgefiel is to recall one’s own experience of suffering. It is no surprise that one who has suffered sickness best understands the discomfort of the ill; one who has sustained loss can best comfort the bereaved; one who has fallen can relate to the one struggling.
The galus experience refines our ethical and moral awareness. The Torah commands us, “You shall not pervert the justice due a stranger or to the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment in pawn.”
Why not? Because we suffered. “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the L-rd your G-d redeemed you…”
Thirty-six times we are exhorted to treat the stranger kindly – because you were gerim in Egypt. You know the soul of the stranger. You know how it feels to be laid low. It is that feeling that inspires you to raise others up!
All true. Still, it is not easy to draw positive lessons from life’s hurts. It is harder still the closer we are to the one causing us hurt.
Consider the anger and bitterness of divorced couples – all to the detriment of each other and, most certainly, to any children caught in the middle of their raw emotions. Divorce, with all its hurt, uncertainty and loss should not lead to lifelong enmity. At the end of a divorce, there are two people who need to find a new path forward, a path that will remain lost to them until they can find a way to live with civility, decency, and sensitivity toward one another.
Tizkor et eretz mitzrayim!
Move the line!
It is sad when the promise of the chupah is unrealized. When the kiddushin does not take hold. When divorce happens, let’s turn the pages of the Masechet Gittin.
Move the line.
Which leads me to ask, why should we allow so many pained husbands to focus on hatred and spite rather than freedom and sensitivity? Why insist on keeping wives in chains, literally and figuratively? Why should an unsuccessful marriage be made even worse; virtually enslaving a tormented agunah wife, witnessed by bewildered and frightened children?
Did not these “learned” husbands take to heart the teachings of Torah and mussar? Where does our tradition teach to maintain such venom toward a woman with whom you had intended to spend your life? Where do our Sages teach to plant your boot upon the neck of the woman who gave birth to your children?
The marriage did not work. It is sad. It is hurtful. But what do our unhappy days in Egypt teach you about your suffering? To continually hate? No! The very opposite. To not hate!
No good will ever comes from hatred – neither personal nor communal. Moving forward can only be accomplished by letting go. Move de line. Get on with life!
Once again, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is particularly insightful when he teaches, “Hatred and liberty cannot coexist. A free people does not hate its former enemies; if it does, it is not yet ready for freedom. To create a non-persecuting society out of people who have been persecuted, you have to break the chains of the past; rob memory of its sting; sublimate pain into constructive energy and the determination to build a different future.”
To the spiteful husband who has not yet delivered the get to his estranged wife – seek a rav, a therapist, a friend, someone, anyone who can help you let go of your hate, who can help you turn your heart toward freedom – yours and your ex’s.
If you are a friend, a teacher, a mentor to such a husband, take him by the hand; help him free himself from his self-affliction. Declare freedom for him and his agunah wife.
Do it now, before Rosh Hashanah. Or during the Ten Days of Repentance. Let the new year be a real new beginning; the first steps on a new path, one that leads to freedom, to a life free of hatred and blame!
He who thinks that a get refusal is the “last, best weapon” to use as punishment is deceiving himself. It is not only his agunah wife who remains enslaved. He is also enslaved by his hurt, anger and hate.
As long as you hate, you remain a slave. We are wise to remember that no slave can honestly recite al chet! We are wise to accept the responsibility and joy of freedom.
Move de line. Move de line.