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  • The Baseless Hatred Mystery Revealed

    by Shmuel Katanov

     Our Chachamim z"l tell us that the First Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of three sins: Avodah Zarah/Idolatry, Shefichat Damim/Murder, and Arayot/Adultery. The second Temple of only one sin - Sinat Chinam - Baseless Hatred.

    Each of the sins are bad in their own right, but it took three sins to bring down the First Temple and only one the Second. Why? Why only one, what is so destructive and bad about it?

    Let's dive into Sinat Chinam cause I believe the reasons for the destruction of the First Temple are pretty self explanatory.

    So what is Sinat Chinam? It is Baseless Hatred or simply Hate that is coming from a place of evil. It's a wish to see another's demise or failure and when you in that hating mode you observe and translate anything that person does to negative with no benefit of a doubt.

    When you hate you always pursue the harm of another. You speak of him in harmful way, you make up stories so you get more people on your side to believe the lies, so he can have enemies. You speak and spread lashon hara - an evil speech, because you want others to see him in a bad way. You may say things to his spouse, so the family will have no peace and eventually falls apart. You accuse him and his children, so it should effect their shidduchim/marriage prospects. You make sure his reputation is ruined in his community and places of business. You make sure your family and people around him show him a cold shoulder so he feels unwanted and unbelonged.

    All of this is done stealthily where few people involved in the community or many across many communities. In our times, all of the above can be accomplished with just few clicks of the computer or the phone.

    Because of this ugly behavior, of the few or the many, Hashem has destroyed the Second Temple. So if the Temple is destroyed and it may seem like nothing is at stake today, what do we have to lose this time around?

    Chachamim tell us, that when a new family is born, the chatan and kallah are on their way to build something enormously holy - their Own Bet Hamikdash, where each room of their house resembles the original Temple. The bedroom is like the Holy of Holies, the living room table is like a Mizbeach where we cater the guests and consume our earthly sacrifices. Kitchen is where it's all prepared to the strict laws of kashrut.

    Our houses and shules are small Batey haMikdashim. This is where Shechina rests, this is where the mitzvot are done and kedusha is kept.

    Hashem wants peace and unity between people in the community or between communities, where people help each other, happy for each other, where they see good in each other with no jealousy and hate towards each other. Where they want others to have better houses, cars, vacations, respect and accessories. This is what Hashem expects from his people.

    Second Temple was destroyed because of Hate, the most ugliest trait that consumes many communities and people no matter their religious backgrounds. The solution to it is Achavat Chinam - Baseless Love. Otherwise our small Batey haMikdashim are at stake.

    The Sages taught, "Any generation in which the Temple is not built, it is as if it had been destroyed in their times" (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1a).

    Our job is to change for the better, to do good to others, more of baseless love and no hate and animosity towards others - be it in their own community or outside of it, better ourselves in our servitude to Hashem and earn the merit to see Moshiach and the Third Beit Hamikdash rebuilt in our days. Amen.


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  • A Stiff-Necked People

    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    It is a moment of the very highest drama. The Israelites, a mere forty days after the greatest revelation in history, have made an idol: a Golden Calf. God threatens to destroy them. Moses, exemplifying to the fullest degree the character of Israel as one who “wrestles with God and man,” confronts both in turn. To God, he prays for mercy for the people. Coming down the mountain and facing Israel, he smashes the tablets, symbol of the covenant. He grinds the calf to dust, mixes it with water, and makes the Israelites drink it. He commands the Levites to punish the wrongdoers. Then he re-ascends the mountain in a prolonged attempt to repair the shattered relationship between God and the people.

    God accepts his request and tells Moses to carve two new tablets of stone. At this point, however, Moses makes a strange appeal:

    And Moses hurried and knelt to the ground and bowed, and he said, “If I have found favour in Your eyes, my Lord, may my Lord go among us, because [ki] it is a stiff-necked people, and forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.” (Ex. 34:8–9)

    The difficulty in the verse is self-evident. Moses cites as a reason for God remaining with the Israelites the very attribute that God had previously given for wishing to abandon them:

    “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (Ex. 32:9)

    How can Moses invoke the people’s obstinacy as the very reason for God to maintain His presence among them? What is the meaning of Moses’ “because” – “may my Lord go among us, because it is a stiff- necked people”?

    The commentators offer a variety of interpretations. Rashi reads the word ki as “if ” – “If they are stiff-necked, then forgive them.”[1]
     Ibn Ezra[2] and Chizkuni[3] read it as “although” or “despite the fact that” (af al pi). Alternatively, suggests Ibn Ezra, the verse might be read, “[I admit that] it is a stiff-necked people – therefore forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.”[4] These are straightforward readings, though they assign to the word ki a meaning it does not normally have.

    There is, however, another and far more striking line of interpretation that can be traced across the centuries. In the twentieth century, it was given expression by Rabbi Yitzchak Nissenbaum. The argument he attributed to Moses was this:

    Almighty God, look upon these people with favor, because what is now their greatest vice will one day be their most heroic virtue. They are indeed an obstinate people…But just as now they are stiff-necked in their disobedience, so one day they will be equally stiff-necked in their loyalty. Nations will call on them to assimilate, but they will refuse. Mightier religions will urge them to convert, but they will resist. They will suffer humiliation, persecution, even torture, and death because of the name they bear and the faith they profess, but they will stay true to the covenant their ancestors made with You. They will go to their deaths saying Ani ma’amin, “I believe.” This is a people awesome in its obstinacy – and though now it is their failing, there will be times far into the future when it will be their noblest strength.[5]


    The fact that Rabbi Nissenbaum lived and died in the Warsaw ghetto gives added poignancy to his words.[6]

    Many centuries earlier, a Midrash made essentially the same point:

    There are three things which are undaunted: the dog among beasts, the rooster among birds, and Israel among the nations. R. Isaac ben Redifa said in the name of R. Ami: You might think that this is a negative attribute, but in fact it is praiseworthy, for it means: “Either be a Jew or prepare to be hanged.”[7]

    Jews were stiff-necked, says Rabbi Ami, in the sense that they were ready to die for their faith. As Gersonides (Ralbag) explained in the fourteenth century, a stubborn people may be slow to acquire a faith, but once they have done so they never relinquish it.[8]

    We catch a glimpse of this extraordinary obstinacy in an episode narrated by Josephus, one of the first recorded incidents of mass non-violent civil disobedience. It took place during the reign of the Roman emperor Caligula (37–41 CE). He had proposed placing a statue of himself in the precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem and had sent the military leader Petronius to carry out the task, if necessary by force. This is how Josephus describes the encounter between Petronius and the Jewish population at Ptolemais (Acre):

    There came ten thousand Jews to Petronius at Ptolemais to offer their petitions to him that he would not compel them to violate the law of their forefathers. “But if,” they said, “you are wholly resolved to bring the statue and install it, then you must first kill us, and then do what you have resolved on. For while we are alive we cannot permit such things as are forbidden by our law…”

    Then Petronius came to them (at Tiberius): “Will you then make war with Caesar, regardless of his great preparations for war and your own weakness?” They replied, “We will not by any means make war with Caesar, but we will die before we see our laws transgressed.” Then they threw themselves down on their faces and stretched out their throats and said that they were ready to be slain…Thus they continued firm in their resolution and proposed themselves to die willingly rather than see the statue dedicated.”[9]

    Faced with such heroic defiance on so large a scale, Petronius gave way and wrote to Caligula urging him, in Josephus’ words, “not to drive so many ten thousand of these men to distraction; that if he were to slay these men, he would be publicly cursed for all future ages.”

    Nor was this a unique episode. The rabbinic literature, together with the chronicles of the Middle Ages, is full of stories of martyrdom, of Jews willing to die rather than convert. Indeed the very concept of Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of God’s name, came to be associated in the halachic literature with the willingness “to die rather than transgress.” The rabbinic conclave at Lod (Lydda) in the second century CE, which laid down the laws of martyrdom (including the three sins about which it was said that “one must die rather than transgress”)[10]
     may have been an attempt to limit, rather than encourage, the phenomenon. Of these many episodes, one stands out for its theological audacity. It was recorded by the Jewish historian Shlomo ibn Verga (fifteenth to sixteenth centuries) and concerns the Spanish expulsion:

    One of the boats was infested with the plague, and the captain of the boat put the passengers ashore at some uninhabited place…There was one Jew among them who struggled on afoot together with his wife and two children. The wife grew faint and died… The husband carried his children along until both he and they fainted from hunger. When he regained consciousness, he found that his two children had died.

    In great grief, he rose to his feet and said: “O Lord of all the universe, You are doing a great deal that I might even desert my faith. But know You of a certainty that – even against the will of heaven – a Jew I am and a Jew I shall remain. And neither that which You have brought upon me nor that which You may yet bring upon me will be of any avail.”[11]

    One is awestruck by such faith – such obstinate faith. Almost certainly it was this idea that lies behind a famous Talmudic passage about the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai:

    And they stood under the mountain: R. Avdimi b. Chama b. Chasa said: This teaches that the Holy One blessed be He, overturned the mountain above them like a barrel and said, “If you accept the Torah, it will be well. If not, this will be your burial place.” Said Rava, Even so, they re-accepted the Torah in the days of Ahasuerus, for it is written, “the Jews confirmed and took upon them”, meaning, “they confirmed what they had accepted before.”[12]

    The meaning of this strange text seems to be this: at Sinai the Jewish people had no choice but to accept the covenant. They had just been rescued from Egypt. God had divided the sea for them; He had sent them manna from heaven and water from the rock. Acceptance of a covenant under such conditions cannot be called free. The real test of faith came when God was hidden. Rava’s quotation from the Book of Esther is pointed and precise. Megillat Esther does not contain the name of God. The rabbis suggested that the name Esther is an allusion to the phrase haster astir et panai, “I will surely hide My face.” The book relates the first warrant for genocide against the Jewish people. That Jews remained Jews under such conditions was proof positive that they did indeed reaffirm the covenant. Obstinate in their disbelief during much of the biblical era, they became obstinate in their belief ever afterward. Faced with God’s presence, they disobeyed Him. Confronted with His absence, they stayed faithful to Him. That is the paradox of the stiff-necked people.

    Not by accident does the main narrative of the Book of Esther begin with the words “And Mordechai would not bow down” (
    Esther 3:1). His refusal to make obeisance to Haman sets the story in motion. Mordechai too is obstinate – for there is one thing that is hard to do if you have a stiff neck, namely, bow down. At times, Jews found it hard to bow down to God – but they were certainly never willing to bow down to anything less. That is why, alone of all the many peoples who have entered the arena of history, Jews – even in exile, dispersed, and everywhere a minority – neither assimilated to the dominant culture nor converted to the majority faith.

    “Forgive them because they are a stiff-necked people,” said Moses, because the time will come when that stubbornness will be not a tragic failing but a noble and defiant loyalty. And so it came to be.


    Shabbat Shalom.
    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
    Source

    [1] Rashi, commentary to Exodus 34:9.
    [2] In his “short” commentary to Exodus 34:9. In his long commentary he quotes this view in the name of R. Yonah ibn Yanah (R. Marinus, 990–1050).
    [3] Hezekiah ben Manoah, a French rabbi and exegete who lived during the thirteenth century.
    [4] Ibn Ezra, “long” commentary ad loc.
    [5] This is my paraphrase of the commentary cited in the name of R. Yitzhak Nissenbaum in Aaron Yaakov Greenberg, ed., Itturei Torah, Shemot (Tel Aviv, 1976), 269–70.
    [6] For R. Nissenbaum’s remarkable speech in the Warsaw Ghetto, see Emil Fackenheim, To Mend the World (New York: Schocken, 1982), 223.
    [7] Beitza 25b; Shemot Rabbah 42:9.
    [8] Ralbag, commentary to Exodus 34:9.
    [9] Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 18, chap. 8. Cited in Milton Konvitz, “Conscience and Civil Disobedience in the Jewish Tradition,” in Contemporary Jewish Ethics, ed. Menachem Kellner (New York: Sanhedrin Press, 1978), 242–43.
    [10] Sanhedrin 74a. The three sins were murder, idolatry and incest. Martyrdom was a complex problem at various points in Jewish history. Jews found themselves torn between two conflicting ideals. On the one hand, self-sacrifice was the highest form of Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of God’s name. On the other, Judaism has a marked preference for life and its preservation.
    [11] In Nahum Glatzer, A Jewish Reader (New York: Schocken, 1975), 204–5. It was this passage that inspired Zvi Kolitz’s famous Holocaust fiction about one man’s defiance of God in the name of God, Yossl Rakover Talks to God (New York: Vintage, 2000).
    [12] Shabbat 88a. See essay “Mount Sinai and the Birth of Freedom,” p. 149.


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  • Loving the Stranger

    by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    There are commands that leap off the page by their sheer moral power. So it is in the case of the social legislation in Mishpatim. Amid the complex laws relating to the treatment of slaves, personal injury and property, one command in particular stands out, by virtue of its repetition (it appears twice in our parsha), and the historical-psychological reasoning that lies behind it:

    Do not ill-treat a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in Egypt. (Exodus 22:20)
    Do not oppress a stranger; you yourselves know how it feels to be a stranger [literally, “you know the soul of a stranger”], because you were strangers in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

    Mishpatim contains many laws of social justice – against taking advantage of a widow or orphan, for example, or charging interest on a loan to a fellow member of the covenantal community, against bribery and injustice, and so on. The first and last of these laws, however, is the repeated command against harming a ger, a “stranger.” Clearly something fundamental is at stake in the Torah’s vision of a just and gracious social order.

    If a person was a son of proselytes, one must not taunt him by saying, “Remember the deeds of your ancestors,” because it is written “Do not ill-treat a stranger or oppress him.”

    The Sages noted the repeated emphasis on the stranger in biblical law. According to Rabbi Eliezer, the Torah “warns against the wronging of a ger in thirty-six places; others say, in forty-six places.”[1]

    Whatever the precise number, the repetition throughout the Mosaic books is remarkable. Sometimes the stranger is mentioned along with the poor; at others, with the widow and orphan. On several occassions the Torah specifies: “You shall have the same law for the stranger as for the native-born.”[2] Not only must the stranger not be wronged; he or she must be included in the positive welfare provisions of Israelite/ Jewish society. But the law goes beyond this; the stranger must be loved:

    When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The stranger living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your G-d. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

    This provision appears in the same chapter as the command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Later, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses makes it clear that this is the attribute of G-d Himself:

    “For the Lord your G-d is G-d of gods and Lord of lords, the great G-d, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are strangers, for you yourselves were strangers in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10 17-19)

    What is the logic of the command? The most profound commentary is that given by Nachmanides:

    The correct interpretation appears to me to be that He is saying: do not wrong a stranger or oppress him, thinking as you might that none can deliver him out of your hand; for you know that you were strangers in the land of Egypt and I saw the oppression with which the Egyptian oppressed you, and I avenged your cause on them, because I behold the tears of such who are oppressed and have no comforter…Likewise you shall not afflict the widow and the orphan for I will hear their cry, for all these people do not rely upon themselves but trust in Me.

    And in another verse he added this reason: for you know what it feels like to be a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. That is to say, you know that every stranger feels depressed, and is always sighing and crying, and his eyes are always directed towards G-d, therefore He will have mercy upon him even as He showed mercy to you [and likewise He has mercy on all who are oppressed].[3]

    According to Nachmanides the command has two dimensions. The first is the relative powerlessness of the stranger. He or she is not surrounded by family, friends, neighbors, a community of those ready to come to their defense. Therefore the Torah warns against wronging them because G-d has made Himself protector of those who have no one else to protect them. This is the political dimension of the command. The second reason, as we have already noted, is the psychological vulnerability of the stranger (we recall Moses’ own words at the birth of his first son, while he was living among the Midianites: “I am a stranger in a strange land,” Exodus 2:22). The stranger is one who lives outside the normal securities of home and belonging. He or she is, or feels, alone – and, throughout the Torah, G-d is especially sensitive to the sigh of the oppressed, the feelings of the rejected, the cry of the unheard. That is the emotive dimension of the command.

    Rabbi Chayim ibn Attar (Ohr HaChayim) adds a further fascinating insight. It may be, he says, that the very sanctity that Israelites feel as children of the covenant may lead them to look down on those who lack a similar lineage. Therefore they are commanded not to feel superior to the ger, but instead to remember the degradation their ancestors experienced in Egypt.[4] As such, it becomes a command of humility in the face of strangers.

    Whichever way we look at it, there is something striking about this almost endlessly iterated concern for the stranger – together with the historical reminder that “you yourselves were slaves in Egypt.” It is as if, in this series of laws, we are nearing the core of the mystery of Jewish existence itself. What is the Torah implying?

    Concern for social justice was not unique to Israel.[5] What we sense, however, throughout the early biblical narrative, is the lack of basic rights to which outsiders could appeal. Not by accident is the fate of Sodom and the cities of the plain sealed when they attempt to assault Lot’s two visitors. Nor can we fail to feel the risk to which Abraham and Isaac believe they are exposed when they are forced to leave home and take refuge in Egypt or the land of the Philistines. In each of the three episodes (Genesis chapters 12, 20, 26) they are convinced that their lives are at stake; that they may be murdered so that their wives can be taken into the royal harem.

    There are also repeated implications, in the course of the Joseph story, that in Egypt, Israelites were regarded as pariahs (the word “Hebrew,” like the term hapiru found in the non-Israelite literature of the period, seems to have a strong negative connotation). One verse in particular – when the brothers visit Joseph a second time – indicates the distaste with which they were regarded:

    They served him [ Joseph] by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. (Genesis 43:32)

    So it was, in the ancient world. Hatred of the foreigner is the oldest of passions, going back to tribalism and the prehistory of civilization. The Greeks called strangers “barbarians” because of their (as it seemed to them) outlandish speech that sounded like the bleating of sheep.[6] The Romans were equally dismissive of non-Hellenistic races. The pages of history are stained with blood spilled in the name of racial or ethnic conflict. It was precisely this to which the Enlightenment, the new “age of reason,” promised an end. It did not happen. In 1789, in revolutionary France, as the Rights of Man were being pronounced, riots broke out against the Jewish community in Alsace. Hatred against English and German immigrant workers persisted throughout the nineteenth century. In 1881 in Marseilles a crowd of ten thousand went on a rampage attacking Italians and their property. Dislike of the unlike is as old as mankind. This fact lies at the very heart of the Jewish experience. It is no coincidence that Judaism was born in two journeys away from the two greatest civilizations of the ancient world: Abraham’s from Mesopotamia, Moses’ and the Israelites’ from Pharaonic Egypt. The Torah is the world’s great protest against empires and imperialism. There are many dimensions to this protest. One dimension is the protest against the attempt to justify social hierarchy and the absolute power of rulers in the name of religion. Another is the subordination of the masses to the state – epitomized by the vast building projects, first of Babel, then of Egypt, and the enslavement they entailed. A third is the brutality of nations in the course of war (the subject of Amos’ oracles against the nations). Undoubtedly, though, the most serious offense – for the prophets as well as the Mosaic books – was the use of power against the powerless: the widow, the orphan and, above all, the stranger.

    To be a Jew is to be a stranger. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this was why Abraham was commanded to leave his land, home and father’s house; why, long before Joseph was born, Abraham was already told that his descendants would be strangers in a land not their own; why Moses had to suffer personal exile before assuming leadership of the people; why the Israelites underwent persecution before inheriting their own land; and why the Torah is so insistent that this experience – the retelling of the story on Passover, along with the never-forgotten taste of the bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of slavery – should become a permanent part of their collective memory.

    It is terrifying in retrospect to grasp how seriously the Torah took the phenomenon of xenophobia, hatred of the stranger. It is as if the Torah were saying with the utmost clarity: the reason is insufficient. Sympathy is inadequate. Only the force of history and memory is strong enough to form a counterweight to hate.

    The Torah asks, why should you not hate the stranger? Because you once stood where he stands now. You know the heart of the stranger because you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt. If you are human, so is he. If he is less than human, so are you. You must fight the hatred in your heart as I once fought the greatest ruler and the strongest empire in the ancient world on your behalf. I made you into the world’s archetypal strangers so that you would fight for the rights of strangers – for your own and those of others, wherever they are, whoever they are, whatever the color of their skin or the nature of their culture, because though they are not in your image, says G-d, they are nonetheless in Mine. There is only one reply strong enough to answer the question: Why should I not hate the stranger? Because the stranger is me.

    Shabbat Shalom,

    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
    Source

     

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Latest Articles

Most Popular

  • The Baseless Hatred Mystery Revealed
    by Shmuel KatanovOur Chachamim z"l tell us that the First Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of three sins: Avodah...
  • A Stiff-Necked People
    Rabbi Jonathan SacksIt is a moment of the very highest drama. The Israelites, a mere forty days after the greatest revelation...
  • Loving the Stranger
    by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks There are commands that leap off the page by their sheer moral power. So it is in the case of the social...
  • The World is Waiting for You
    by Rabbi Jonathan SacksSomething remarkable happens in this week’s parsha, almost without our noticing it, that changed...
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    Шмуэль КатановНаши мудрецы рассказывают что Первый Храм был разрушен из за трёх нарушений: поклонению идолам, убийствам и...