Thursday, July 18, 2013

Baseless Hatred

Sinat Chinam, or baseless hatred, is the reason that the rabbis in the Talmud give us for the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE (Yoma 9b). That is, people within our community hated each other for no good reason and behaved badly towards each other. Earlier this week, many Jews observed the fast day of Tisha B'Av. This is the historical date of the destruction of the Second Temple, the First Temple and many other calamities throughout Jewish history. They mourn for what has been lost. Other Jews who may not feel the need to mourn the Temple life still take this time as an opportunity to consider the way we treat each other, and the other in our lives. We note with regret the mistakes we have made, and resolve to improve ourselves in the days to come.  It is thus all the more distressing to look back on the events of the most recent Rosh Chodesh celebrations at the Kotel in Jerusalem. The Haredi community flexed its muscles to try and prevent the monthly service led by Women of the Wall. Noa Kligfield, an 11-year-old girl from Los Angeles who was present that day, describes her experience eloquently:

"Charedi leaders bussed in more than 7,000 yeshiva girls my age and filled up the Kotel plaza to ensure that there was no room for us to pray. Jeering and yelling, blowing whistles and making faces, calling us Nazis and throwing eggs, with their eyes full of such hatred, it terrified me. These girls didn't even know me, yet they despised me. They had been brought up to loathe all of the women I was praying with, and it was somehow deemed a positive learning experience for them to protest against us."

You may read the rest of her report here.

It seems so clear to me that working out how to share time and space with those who do things differently to us is hopefully a path away from all this hatred. At the same time I know that it takes energy and focus that I am not always willing to share. My excuses seem valid - I'm too tired, I have other priorities, it's a hopeless task. So I talk about how depressing it all is, but still do nothing. Then today I read a drash by  Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld. He writes:

"... dislike of others - whether acute or subtle - is an enormously self-satisfying way to live. Nothing forces me to grow, to change, to come out of my own little shell - and that is just the way I want it"
(You can find the rest of it here.)

I thought - ok,  if I give up trying, then at least I should acknowledge that it is because of my own wishes and feelings and ego. Change is so bloody hard as well as scary. It's much easier to cope with current issues than to muddy the waters and have to deal with unknown challenges. As R. Rosenfeld says, if I blame others for the wrongs of the world, it's about my comfort level and nothing else. I'm saying it's their fault and their responsibility. That's an easy way out, free from guilt!

In fact, it's not so easy, because if I continue to be honest with myself, I am quite miserable. It's not just the constant stream of terrible news from the world out there - the travesty of justice for Trayvon Martin, Indian children dying from tainted free school dinners, the famous and infamous struck down by disease and addiction. There are currently too many people that I'm mad at, too many people I think have hurt me, too many people I know I have not treated well. There's no hatred yet, but if I don't sort things out, I can see how our anger could head in such a direction.

So what can I do? It's pretty simple, really. I need to get offline and start talking to these people. Maybe we can fix things, maybe not. Time to have a go. L'hitraot.

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