5757 - #23


The concern of the Torah in the commandment of lo tisna, not to hate a fellow Jew in one's heart,1 is not the cause of the hate but rather the response to the hate. As indicated by the command of hoche'ach tochi'ach, to rebuke your neighbour,2 one is not allowed to simply hide one's hate but must communicate this hate to the other person.3 It is how one acts when feeling hatred that is the essence of this mitzvah. In connecting the command of lo tisna with the concept of sinat chinum, we can conclude that the correct translation of this concept is not "baseless hatred" but rather "purposeless hatred". It is not the source of the hatred, its lack of reason, that marks the extreme evil of sinat chinum but rather our response to the hatred, its lack of purpose and direction. Hate ultimately is an emotion arising within the human being, sometimes with clear cause and sometimes without; it a natural consequence of human existence. As with all the lessons of Torah, it is how we respond to the general existence of mankind that marks the Jew.

A review of the literal translation of sinat chinum actually seems to support a translation of "purposeless hatred". Literally, the term means "free hatred". What does it mean when something is free? When receiving something for free, a person acquires an object without undertaking any responsibility. Acquisition of an object usually does mean the acceptance of a responsibility, i.e. one has to pay. Acquisition for free does not mean that there was no reason for the acquisition - a gift often has a reason - but that the acquisition created no responsibility. The mitzvah of lo tisna ultimately informs us that the feeling of hatred demands a response; the feeling creates a responsibility to act, as prescribed by Torah, in reaction to this feeling of hatred. Sinat chinum is, thus, a "free hatred", a hatred so vile that it does not foster in us this Torah-demanded responsibility to act.

Hatred is ultimately the human emotional reaction to that which offends us and, as such, in itself, hatred is neither good nor bad. The nature of the stimulus which causes us to hate, which offends us, obviously is a factor in our determination of whether the hatred is acceptable or not. We are indeed called upon to hate evil.4 The mitzvot of lo tisna and choche'ach tochi'ach, though, further inform us that the determination of hate as positive or negative is also dependent on how we respond to the hate. To be positive, our emotion of hate must also demand of us that we confront evil and attempt to correct the wrong. Remarkably, in that process, we also gain knowledge of the true enemy, the true nature of the offensive stimulus, and the essence of the hate itself also changes.

Malbim, Vayikra 19:17 points out that rebuke is only possible when the one rebuking is also willing to receive rebuke. The process of rebuke is ultimately a dynamic one; the interchange is not one way but flows in both directions.5 As we challenge our neighbour who has offended us, he or she will respond: perhaps admitting their wrong, perhaps justifying their actions, perhaps challenging our critique. Only one who in turn can accept rebuke will allow the dynamics of this process to unfold to the greatest extent possible. And the only way that can be achieved is in recognition that the enemy is not the person but evil - the evil within others and the evil within oneself. Choche'ach tochi'ach is not just a call to confront evil, it is a charge to recognize the true nature of evil and to accept the commitment to fight it in all of its manifestations, including within oneself. The hate is transferred from the person to the evil itself -- and as the evil is defeated through knowledge and growth, the hate subsides.

As presented in T.B. Brachot 10a, Rabbi Meir, in response to attacks by a band of thieves, prayed for their destruction. His wife Bruria informed him that he should curse their actions not them. Rabbi Meir agreed and prayed for them to repent, for their evil actions to be destroyed, and in the end, the thieves repented. Maharsha explains that the prayer for the thieves to repent only worked because Rabbi Meir included himself in that prayer, he prayed for himself also to repent. The initial response of hate is usually directed against another individual. Yet, another individual is not the true offensive stimulus that we are encountering; it is the evil action, it is evil itself

that offends. Hate is obviously wrong if it is caused by good, if we are offended by righteousness and correct behaviour. Yet, hate can also be problematic even when initiated by that which is truly offensive. Lo tisna and choche'ach tochi'ach cause us to transfer our hate from the person to the evil itself - and through the process and new joint effort to defeat evil, the powerful emotion of hate, only positive when it is temporary and motivating direct action, subsides. Sinat chinum, though, is a hate that insists on gluing the focus to the person. It is furthermore a hate that is stoked, that the individual continues to feed. It is a hate that challenges lo tisna and choche'ach tochi'ach themselves. Ultimately, sinat chinum with its focus on the person to be hated, veers one away from the true enemy -- evil itself -- because its goal is not the defeat of evil but the protection of self.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Horeb 2:33 categorizes the sins that led to the destruction of the Second Temple as "self-seeking". One of the great tragedies of religion is that it can create self-righteousness as individuals use their observance6 to project themselves as closer to the Deity. For self-righteousness to exist, though, there must always be an object of comparison, the one that I am better than. Maharsha explains that in the time of the Second Temple, cliques were formed - there were my friends and there were my enemies. Evaluation was comparative and so evolved sinat chinum - to gain value in myself, there had to be the other that I hated.

Choche'ach tochi'ach ultimately challenges this concept. In the dynamics of proper tocha'cha, all individuals join together in fighting the true enemy, evil - within oneself as well as within the other. Humanity is joined in fighting this enemy. The one who cannot receive rebuke and, as such, cannot properly give it, the one who violates lo tisna, though, wishes to maintain the other individual as the object of hate. Humanity is divided. The goal is not to lead the individual into a confrontation with evil but rather to maintain the individual's self-perception as better than the other. In fact, correct action upon the hate is avoided because it may lead to self-critique. Is it no wonder why sinat chinum is so vile?

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


1 Vayikra 19:17.

2 In the same verse of Vayikra 19:17.

3 See Insight 5757 - #22 for a further discussion on this topic.

4 See Mishlei 8:13. See also T.B. Pesachim 113b.

5 See, also, Ramban, HaEmek Davar, Meshech Chachmah on this verse.

6 Note how T.B. Yoma 9b states that the people were involved in Torah, mitzvot and gemilat chassidim.

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