Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 11 July 2020 / 19 Tammuz 5780

Harmony of a Nation - Overcoming baseless hatred (Part 2)

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
Library Library Library

The Gemara says that the First Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins: idolatry, illicit relations, and murder. The Second Beit Hamikdash, though, was destroyed because of sinat chinam (baseless hatred). Since the First Beit Hamikdash was destroyed from idolatry, illicit relations, and murder, and the second was destroyed because of baseless hatred, the Gemara concludes that baseless hatred is akin to the three cardinal sins (Yoma 9b).

What is Baseless Hatred?

Last week we addressed how the question of how the seemingly light transgression of “hating someone in one’s heart” can be compared to the severe transgressions of idolatry, illicit relations, and murder. This week we will focus on an even more fundamental question on the Gemara above. The Gemara says clearly that it was baseless hatred that destroyed the Beit Hamikdash. However, this idea is very hard to grasp. What is the meaning of baseless hatred? Don’t people usually have a reason for hating someone? Why would people hate each other for no reason at all?

This question is not only a historical investigation of what took place in the generation when the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, but it is also very relevant to us in the present day as well. Chazal tell us: In every generation that the Beit Hamikdash is not rebuilt, it is as if it was destroyed in that generation (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1). This is because if we would do sincere teshuva for the sins that caused the Beit Hamikdash to be destroyed, then we would merit seeing it rebuilt. The fact that the Beit Hamikdash is not yet rebuilt is therefore testimony to the fact that we are continuing in the wrong ways that led to its destruction. This means that we are also guilty of baseless hatred. Therefore, it is our duty to investigate the meaning behind baseless hatred and how we are guilty of it today.

Hatred that is Permitted

Before addressing this issue directly, we need a brief background regarding the prohibition of hating others. Even though baseless hatred is forbidden, there is a type of hatred that is not only permitted, but is also a mitzvah. The halacha dictates that in certain cases it is actually a mitzvah to hate those who go against the words of Hashem (see below the many limitations of this halacha) (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 272:11). There are two primary reasons given for the mitzvah of hating those who go against Hashem: one is for the benefit of the transgressors themselves, and the other is for the benefit of others.

One reason given is so that one will hate the actions of the transgressor and not come to learn from and be influenced by his bad ways (Tzivyon Ha’amoodim on Smak, aseh 8). Another reason given is that when people see that one who transgresses is hated, it will deter them from going after their yetzer hara, and will also cause those who sinned to do teshuva (Megillat Sefer on Smag, lo taaseh 5). According to the latter reason, the hatred has to be shown outwardly in order to bring about the intended results.

Limitations of Permitted Hatred

Even when it comes to hating someone who goes against the words of Hashem, the instances are very limited. While this is not a halachic work, and in a practice one should consult a posek about each individual case, the following is a general list of opinions that limit the cases for which hatred is allowed.

The hatred of a wicked person is limited to a case where one personally witnessed someone intentionally committing a well known sin, or if two witnesses testified in Beit Din (Jewish court run according to Torah law) that they saw him sin. If the sin is not well known, then one can hate the sinner only if the sinner rejects his rebuke (meaning, he admitted his sin and still refuses to do teshuva. If he denies having done wrong, however, it is not considered as having rejected rebuke.) (See Chafetz Chaim, Be’er Mayim Chaim 4:14, 6:31). Even with all this, it is important to note that some prominent Poskim hold that since today we do not know how to give proper rebuke, sinners are never considered as having rejected rebuke (See Chazon Ish, Yoreh Deah 2:28. See also Marganita Tava, printed at the end of Sefer Ahavat Chessed).

Even in a case where it is clear that the person transgressed purposefully, if the sinner did teshuva one is not allowed to hate him (Rambam, Hilchot Rotzeach 13:14). Therefore, if he is a righteous person — or even someone “average” when it comes to keeping mitzvahs — one should assume he already did teshuva and may not hate him (see Chafetz Chaim 4:4).

Even if he is a person who does not generally keep Torah and mitzvahs, often it is because he is lacking a basic Jewish education and his sins are usually a result of total ignorance — and not of rebellion. In such a case, one is not allowed to hate him as a result of seeing him sin (see Rambam, Hilchot Mamrim 3:3, Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 87:14 and Yoreh Deah 1:6, 2:16, 2:28, Marganita Tava, printed at the end of Sefer Ahavat Chessed). A halachic authority should be contacted to determine who exactly falls under this category.

Even in the cases where one is allowed to hate, according to some opinions one has to have pure intentions when hating the sinner, which means that he has to hate the sinner for the sin committed — and not for personal reasons (Dibrot Moshe, Bava Metzia ch. 2 note 77 and Kovetz Shiurim, Bava Kama 104). Furthermore, some opinions hold that one should only hate the bad in him, and not the person as a whole (Tanya, perek 32).

Even in the cases where one is allowed to hate, one still has to help the transgressor when he needs it, and have mercy on him (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 272:11, Ahavat Chesed vol. 1 3:2-3, 4:2).

It is important to note that those who sin out of spite, heretics, inciters to sin and transgressors of more serious sins, all have stricter laws when it comes to this halacha, and, depending on the case, the above limitations may not apply. As mentioned above, since there are many details with regards to this halacha, one must discuss each individual case with a competent halachic authority.

What is Considered “Baseless”?

Let’s now go back to our original topic, which is the definition of baseless hatred. The commentaries explain that anytime that the halacha does not consider the hatred to be justified, then it is considered baseless (see Rashi on Shabbat 32b “sinat chinam”). Now, as mentioned above, the only time that halacha allows hatred is toward people who intentionally go against Hashem’s words. Taking into consideration all of the above limitations, it is clear that in the vast majority of cases the hatred that one feels is considered baseless even if we feel that there is good reason for it (see Peleh Yoetz “sinah”).

There are many factors that contribute to baseless hatred. Depending on the root of the reason for the hatred, there are different ways to combat it. In the next few articles we will try, iy”H, to present ideas from Chazal about how to battle the hatred within and thereby help rebuild the Beit Hamikdash speedily in our day.

*Questions and comments can be sent to the author at chavivdanesh@gmail.com

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