Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 4 July 2020 / 12 Tammuz 5780

Harmony of a Nation - Overcoming baseless hatred (Part 1)

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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The Gemara says that 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. In fact, the commentaries explain that the purpose of a fast day is to contemplate and repent for our sins and our ancestors’ sins that were, and continue to be, the cause of tragedies (Rambam, Hilchot Taanit 5:1). Based on this, it is incumbent on us to understand, and thus fix, the actions that led to the Beit Hamikdash’s destruction, and which continue to prevent it from being rebuilt.

Chazal tell us 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 because of 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). Let us try to understand the sin of baseless hatred and then analyze ways of fixing it.

In One’s Heart

One important fact about the prohibition of baseless hatred is that one can transgress this commandment by just bearing hatred in one’s heart, even without outwardly expressing it (Rambam Hilchot De’ot 6:5, Ramban on Vayikra 19:17). Nevertheless Chazal give us an “action-based parameter” that helps us determine if the level of dislike has reached the point of hatred, which is prohibited. Chazal tell us that if out of hatred one decides to purposely not talk to his fellow for three days, it is a sign that he has reached the level of hatred which is prohibited (see Sanhedrin 27b, Ahavat Yisrael, chapter 2).

The poskim also mention that if one wants, or takes pleasure in, the suffering or failure of his fellow, then it is also a sign that he has reached the forbidden level of hatred (Rema, Yoreh Deah 335:2, Orchot Tzadikim in shaar sinah, Torah Lishma 71). It is important to point out that even if one does not want — or take pleasure in — the suffering of his fellow, but at the same time does not want his fellow to succeed, even though it is not considered a transgression of hatred, it is still considered not fulfilling the mitzvah of “loving one’s fellow like yourself” according to some opinions (see Ramban on Vayikra 19:18).

Why Is It So Bad?

With all of the above, we need to understand why sinat chinam is considered so grave, and why the Gemara equates it with the three cardinal sins. This is especially so because sinat chinam is a sin that one can commit even without doing an action, and it applies even when there is a relatively low level of hatred. Furthermore, the halacha states that one has to give up his life rather than transgress the three cardinal sins, but that this does not apply to sinat chinam. How then can the Gemara equate this seemingly minor transgression with the three cardinal sins? (See Shaarei Teshuva 3:202 with regards to lashon hara.)

The commentaries offer a few explanations for the severity of this sin:

1. Unlike the three cardinal sins, this sin of sinat chinam is “available” all the time and can be committed constantly, at every moment. Furthermore, since the hatred is in one’s heart, at times it can continue on and on, because his fellow is not even aware of it to ask forgiveness, justify his actions or point out a misunderstanding which caused the hatred. As a result, people can sometimes go on hating for days, months and even years! Because of all this, unlike the three cardinal sins, sinat chinam can create a quantitative mountain of transgressions (see Shaarei Teshuva 3:203 with regards to lashon hara, Shaarei Kedusha part II shaar 4, Ahavat Yisrael, chapter 2).

2. Additionally, unlike the three cardinal sins, there is no real deterrent for this prohibition, because while, generally, people are embarrassed to sin due to simple peer pressure and fear other people’s judgments, for sinat chinam there is no such deterrent because it is in the heart.

3. Unlike the three cardinal sins, which are viewed by even those who commit them as crude acts, sinat chinam is not looked at as being bad, since, after all, it's only a feeling in the heart. In fact, often the hater even considers himself righteous for keeping his hatred in his heart and not acting on it! Because of this, unlike the three cardinal sins, people don’t feel the need to do teshuva for the sin of sinat chinam, thereby adding to its severity (see Shaarei Teshuva 3:202, 205 with regards to lashon hara).

4. Furthermore, sinat chinam may lead to other serious

transgressions, like causing fights, hurting through words or actions, embarrassing others in public, lashon hara, rechilut, motzi shem ra, revenge, bearing a grudge, causing damage to another, and, in extreme cases, even murder (see Rashi on Devarim 19:11, Shaarei Teshuva 3:39, Ahavat Yisrael, chapter 2).

Now that we know the severity of sinat chinam, we see how important it is to study this mitzvah in depth. In future issues we will iy”H address what baseless hatred is, since, after all, people usually have a reason for hating someone, and we will also iy”H go over ways of overcoming hatred, doing teshuva for it and preventing it from happening in the future.

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