When the holiday of Tisha b’Av comes around in the late summer, we are both reminded that the High Holidays are but a little under two months away and that it’s time for us to begin thinking about how we treat other people with a bit more introspection. Tisha b’Av, the 9th of the Jewish month of Av, is the day on which we remember disasters that befell our people in ancient times and their causes according the Rabbinic Tradition. These include the destructions of the First and Second Temples, the expulsion from Spain, and the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, among other events.
In considering the causes of these catastrophic events in our history, looking at the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from Mount Zion for nearly two thousand years, the rabbis see Sinat Chinam as the cause. “Sinat Chinam” means something like “Hatred without fair consideration.” It isn’t necessarily hatred without any reason, not hatred just for the sake of hatred, but hatred without attempting to understand the other and to apply the sort of compassion that we would want applied to ourselves.
We remember the events of our history, not just to mourn, but to learn from them and not to repeat them. Considering the often profound levels of hatred in our highly partisan political environment today, we might well see Sinat Chinam at work, a dislike of one another, even a profound hatred, without due consideration of either the opinions of others or even of the worth of the people who hold them. We might consider how our blood boils at the hearing of opinions we do not agree with or our thoughts or words of violence against those who hold other opinions as this sort of hatred.
The rabbis in considering Sinat Chinam might read our thoughts:
Those voting for the other party are wholly other. I can’t understand them at all. If they were like me, they’d think like me. Therefore, they’re not like me at all. I don’t have to treat them well, as I would treat others like me.
That is Sinat Chinam. The rabbis would teach us that instead we should think:
Those who act differently and believe differently are like me. I should seek to understand why they think as they do, because I would want them to seek to understand why I think as I do. I should treat them as I would want to be treated by someone who disagrees with me.
We should always apply Hillel’s, “Do not do unto others as you would have them not do unto you.”
Tisha b’Av reminds us as we near the High Holidays that hatred can bring severe consequences upon the one who hates as well as upon the one hated. Let us, even in this time of great partisan disagreement, seek to limit our hatred and promote understanding among all people.
Arguing and advocating for what we believe is essential. Standing up for what is just and right, even being passionate and getting angry about it at times, is essential. Yet, truly hating those who disagree with us and seeing them as other and evil is harmful to all involved.
May the Jewish New Year, 5780, be a year of increased peace and understanding, of health and happiness, of prosperity and of compassion for all.
Rabbi David Kaufman