Concern. Gratitude. And hate.
Those were the three emotions that all of us should have experienced this past week.
Concern is the most obvious – between Tuesday and Thursday morning a total of 450 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel. 450 rockets! I cannot even imagine what that looks or feels like. I do know that if a single rocket were to fall anywhere in Maryland, we would all be so traumatized that we would just shut down for a week. But in Israel, while many spent a day or two at home – and by home, I mean running back and forth between their bedrooms and their bomb shelters – they force themselves up and out and attempt to continue to live a normal life.
I hope we all felt concern this past week. Not only for the physical safety of our brothers and sisters, young and old, who were in harms way. But also concern for the mental-health and wellbeing of children, whose schools get cancelled not for snow-days but for rocket days, who instead of being taught how to cross the street by looking in both directions are taught how to shield themselves from flying shrapnel. Concern for our brothers and sisters whose normal way of life is anything but normal.
And at the same time, I know that I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude this past week. Because the news in Israel made me stop and reflect that had we, as a people, only had the opportunity to live in the holy land and build small communities as we did since the early 20th century after 2000 years of exile, dayeinu, it would have been enough. And had we, as a people, only – only! – been given the opportunity to call a plot of that holy land ours and create a Jewish state – dayeinu.
And had we only had the opportunity to defend that land and repel five Arab nations from annihilating us – dayeinu.
And had we been given not just victory but also a doubling of that small piece of land – dayeinu.
Had we only been victorious in a miraculous fashion and been given the opportunity to once again claim Jerusalem as our own – dayeinu.
And had we only been able to transform a nation drowning in debt into an economical force while its population has grown from less than a million to almost 10 million – dayeinu, dayeinu, dayeinu.
And this past week to think about the fact that 450 lethal rockets rained down on Israel and that no Israeli was killed. To think about the fact that G-d blessed us with technology that is truly mind-blowing, shooting down rockets in the sky, intercepting the vast majority of those rockets – how can we not be grateful?
Thank you, Hashem, thank you G-d, for all the blessings that we too often take for granted, and specifically for the blessing of Israel.
Concern and gratitude – those were two feelings I felt this past week.
The third emotion – hate – is one that I did not feel but I should have felt, and I’d like to spend the next few minutes telling you why.
Most of what I will be sharing with you is based on a sermon given by Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, an essay written by Rabbi Meir Soloveicthik, and a recent article in Tablet Magazine.
In 1973, Rabbi Lamm spoke of an eminent Orthodox professor at Hebrew University who every year, based on a quirk of the Jewish calendar would avoid celebrating Purim. Not going to get into it now but if you live in Israel you could technically have two days of Purim or you could have no days of Purim. This professor chose to avoid celebrating Purim altogether. The reason? He felt that the booing and hissing that takes place during the reading of the Megillah and the hate directed at Haman and Amaleik was inappropriate. A holiday that celebrates the hatred of the enemy was something so off-putting to him that he chose to skip Purim altogether.
Rabbi Lamm wondered if there is value to this professor’s decision; is hatred, which undoubtedly Purim celebrates, so evil that we should avoid it at all costs?
Rabbi Lamm’s response was a full-throated no. It is not only okay to hate at times, but there is virtue in hatred.
I know you’re squirming in your seats as I say those words, “there is virtue to hatred” and I share your discomfort. But it’s important to acknowledge that the reason most of us are so taken aback is due to the fact that we are so heavily influenced by our Christian neighbors who have a very different tradition and philosophy of hate.
Whereas Jesus said, “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.” Shmuel our great prophet executed the Amaleiki king, Agag with his own sword and the judge Devorah sang of the gruesome killing of Sisera, an evil enemy of the Jewish People. Whereas Catholics pray for Jesus “to lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.” Esther asked Achashveirosh after the Jews had beaten their enemies to have the ten sons of Haman hanged.
(And though you may argue that today we read how Avraham begged G-d to spare the evil people of Sedom, a critical read will tell you that he prayed only for those who were righteous and accepted G-d’s judgment on those who were evil. (see Malbim))
Judaism, it would seem embraces hatred and the question is why. Why is it that hatred is not only allowed in our tradition, but it is at times, even celebrated?
Rabbi Lamm, in his sermon on this topic, shares a number of reasons, some of which I’d like to share with you. I will begin by quoting Rabbi Lamm: “I am weary of people,” he writes, “who cannot or never do not hate at all. I fear that they tend to fall into a far worse trap, into something far more debilitating than hatred, and that is — indifference. It was primarily indifference and not hatred that was the major and most corrupting vice of the Holocaust and from which we suffered.”
Ohavei Hashem sinu ra, King David wrote that one who truly loves G-d, hates evil. One who believes in right and wrong, in the notion that there are things which are objectively moral and immoral, and not fuzzy relativism in which every opinion is valid, such a person must feel hatred towards that which is unjust, towards that which is wrong. And thus, one who is incapable of hatred of evil cannot truly be capable of the love of G-d. Such a person, though they may be very loving, is lacking in their moral character.
A world in which there is only love and no hate breeds indifference; something that is anathema to Judaism.
In addition to a moral reason to hate, there is, Rabbi Lamm adds a psychological dimension. Hatred, he points out, is cathartic. One of the leaders of 18th century European Jewry was a man by the name of Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz. One day, the story goes, he was accosted by the Bishop of Prague who challenged him with the following claim; “Is it not true,” asked the Bishop, “that we Christians believe in the God of Love while you Jews worship the God of Vengeance?”
“Yes,” answered Rabbi Eibeschutz, “it is quite true. You Christians worship love, so you feel free to hate. Whereas we Jews ascribe all vengeance to the Lord, so our lives can therefore be filled with love and understanding.”
What Rabbi Eibishitz was suggesting is this: Hatred is a normal human emotion that will be expressed one way or another. Maybe it’s hate for our spouse, or for an ex-spouse. Maybe it’s for an actress or a politician. Or maybe, we follow the Torah’s direction and channel the natural human feeling of hate to those select few who are truly worthy of that emotion. What Rabbi Eibeschutz was saying is “that when we ban hate entirely it does not disappear, it flourishes on the moral black market.” (Ari Lamm)
And with that in mind, Rabbi Lamm concludes that there are people and movements who do not deserve our justifications and rationalizations. Hitler could have been diagnosed as paranoid, Stalin could have been diagnosed as schizophrenic, but at some point, a man or woman crosses a line and all the rationalizations in the world don’t matter – what they did and who they are is evil. Plain and simple. A genocide is a genocide and one who is involved in genocide loses their right to our compassion.
“There is a time to love and there is a time to hate.” As long as evil exists, hatred has a place in our emotional and spiritual repertoire.
This past week I did not feel hatred, but I probably should have. The catalyst for the latest rocket attacks was the IDF’s targeted killing of Baha Abu Al-Ata. To give you just a glimpse into who this man was. A decade ago, Abu Al-Ata infiltrated the Israeli border and killed two innocent civilians and over the past year, virtually all attacks coming out of Gaza were masterminded by him. That includes sniper attacks, drones with explosives, and rocket attacks, with another attack imminent, all put together by this man. That is evil and it behooves us to recognize it as such.
Where our faith and Christianity differ is our emphasis on human responsibility. Whereas Christianity believes that we are all undeserving in salvation – I, like Hitler, do not deserve G-d’s good grace. Judaism argues that man is capable, regardless of their situation to choose what is right and reject what is wrong. And therefore, when people make poor choices, or more accurately evil choices, they are fully responsible for their evil deeds. Baha Abu Al-Ata was an evil man and therefore worthy of our hatred.
And yet – there is of course, a danger with hate.
There is a danger in placing hatred front and center in our faith, instead of seeing it as a necessary evil, as a counterpoint to love, that allows love to flourish, and an extension of our strong emphasis on free-will.
There is a danger in losing control of hate. When we despise religious Christians because of centuries of evil perpetrated by the Church, or when we assume that all modern German people are bad because their grandparents were evil, when we do that, as too many Jews do, we are not keeping our hatred in check.
Or, when we lump together Baha Abu Al-Ata who deserved to die, together with the Asoarka family, an innocent Arab family of herders, who were mistakenly killed by the IDF this wek, when we lump all Arabs and Muslims together, we are guilty of blind hatred. We are guilty of allowing hatred to run wild. And that too is evil.
And so, as this difficult week comes to an end, let us never lose our connection with our brethren in Israel, their pain is ours and we pray for their safety; whether it makes the front page of our newspapers or not, let us not stop thinking about acheinu kol beis Yisrael, our brothers and sisters wherever they may be. May we never stop thanking G-d for the endless miracles that we have seen in our own lifetimes in our historic homeland. And may we develop within ourselves, yes, a healthy dose of hate; a recognition that there is good and there is evil, there is the moral and immoral and we refuse to rationalize the deeds of those who cross the line, and let that hatred remind us of the immense freedom that we are granted with which we can choose to do good or evil. And lastly, in channeling our hate to the very few who deserve it, “may our lives therefore be filled with love and understanding.”