Letting Go

As we contemplate our role in rebuilding the Bais Hamikdosh, we each have to come to grips with sinas chinom, which Chazal identify as the cause of that destruction. Most frequently, sinas chinom is translated as “baseless hatred,” which has always left me somewhat puzzled, because very few people will ever admit to hating someone for no reason at all. No doubt Bar Kamtza’s host could have offered a long list of reasons justifying his hatred.

Rene Levy, a religious professor emeritus of neuropharmacology at the University of Washington, offers another possible explanation in Baseless Hatred: What It Is and What You Can Do About It (Gefen Publishing House). In his description, sinas chinom is that part of the strong negative feelings we might have about another Jew that is excessive.

We hold our anger too long. We do not take the steps recommended by the Torah to deal with our hatred, for instance by airing our grievance with the one who has angered us. We spread hatred among Jews through our gossip about the object of our hatred or we fail to balance our anger towards a fellow Jew against the feeling of mutual responsibility and closeness for our fellow Jews that is inherent in the concept of areivus.

In short, the “free” element of our hatred is all that which is over and beyond what can possibly be justified by anything done to us. When reframed in that fashion, it should be a lot easier for most of us to identify where our work lies in rebuilding the Bais Hamikdosh.

Professor Levy’s formulation has the added advantage that it does not make the removal of sinas chinom seem like a utopian goal far beyond our capacities. It simply requires us to get a grip on our strong negative feelings towards a fellow Jew and figure out where we have let ourselves get carried away. In what ways did we allow our righteous indignation betray us into thinking that we were justified in removing all the reins on our hatred?

In general, the negative feelings we bear towards others harm us much worse than they do the object of our wrath. They sap our energy and distract us from the goals that provide us with our greatest satisfaction. For that reason, Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l consistently advised people against litigation in bais din. He warned them that the litigation would take over their lives and end up costing them much more emotionally than they would likely gain monetarily. Anyone who has ever observed from afar someone close to him involved in bais din can fully understand that concern.

And the relief of letting go of negative feelings is a powerful elixir inspiring us to shed more and more of those excessive feelings of anger that distort our personalities.

WHILE I CANNOT THINK of anyone whom I know personally for whom the term “hate” is not grossly excessive, I must admit that there was one fellow in the neighborhood for whom I managed to develop a healthy distaste. He once mentioned – loudly – how much he had disliked that week’s column, which he pronounced to be “stupidity, like everything you write.”

And not so long ago, I received a tongue-lashing from him for inadvertently sitting in a seat in shul that he had been occupying until he stepped out of the minyan – a seat that was not his makom kavuah and bore, as far as I can remember, no indication that it was already occupied.

On a Shabbos walk with my wife a few months after the incident in shul, I noticed him standing on the sidewalk in front of us looking at one of the announcements of a levaya, and quickly directed my wife from the sidewalk into the street to avoid passing by him.

A few days later, as I was entering the doctor’s office to pick up a prescription, I happened to notice him exiting a cab looking very badly shaken and being assisted to the curb by the cabdriver. When I exited a few minutes later, he was sitting on the base of a fence in front of the office. At that point, I had a choice: Pretend that I had noticed nothing amiss and just walk by or to engage him in conversation.

I chose the latter, and asked him what had happened and whether there was anything I could do to help. He told me that his wife had been called and would be there shortly.

In the meantime, we discussed his fall, the range of possible injuries, and various rehabilitative therapies depending on the diagnosis. We kept this up for five or ten minutes until his wife arrived, at which point I turned to leave. As I was walking away, he called out after me, “I’m sorry about what happened in shul.”

For a very small investment of time and energy, I had reduced my “enemies list” to zero. In fact, since that time, we have had a number of pleasant exchanges, albeit nothing rising to the level of a conversation.

The process of letting go of my negative emotions and trying to get to another place in a very tangential relationship was deliciously liberating, and hopefully will serve as an example for me to emulate if I find myself again experiencing excessive negativity.

May we all be zoche to experience many such moments of liberation from negative feelings about our fellow Jews, and thereby hasten the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh. It is not that hard.