Turning Baseless Hatred into Unconditional Love

Parashat V’etchanan, 5774. August 8th, 2014
Rabbi Brian Immerman

I did not attend the rally for Israel last week at the state capital, primarily for two reasons.  First, I was skeptical when I learned it was sponsored by Americans Against Terrorism, an organization whose  messages I believe cross the line from supporting Israel to fueling hatred against Muslims.  Second, the slogan of the event was “Let her win.”

 There are no winners in war.  War is not like a football game, when the losing team walks over to shake the hands of the winning team.  No one wins when children die.  No one wins when people have to live with a constant threat of rockets, bombs, missiles and gun shots all day and night, only to emerge traumatized with their hearts hardened.  We hope and pray that Israel succeeds in defending millions of our friends and relatives, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze who have been under constant duress and threat for over a month.  But successful defense does not constitute a win.  It’s never that simple.  In addition, the cost of this defense became suddenly personal to me soon after Israel sent troops into Gaza.

 I was playing basketball with some campers at Shwayder before services, laughing and enjoying camp, when an Israeli counselor learned that one of his close friends, perhaps Omer, Matan, or Daniel, also a commander in the IDF, had been killed in Gaza.  I saw the tears.  This wasn’t another number on the wall or another tick on the media’s death tallies.  This was a bright, young kid, who at 21 had been told to hold a gun and lead other kids into war.  When I was 21 I studied computer science at college, swam in swim meets, and drank beer.  At 21, Israelis are soldiers willing to give up their lives so that Israel will survive another day and so that Israel will exist as a homeland for Jews everywhere.  Our homeland.  My homeland.  Omer, one of the fallen, will not go to college, swim, or drink beer.  Matan, another, will not become a father.  Daniel, age 20, will not fall in love.  All I can think to ask is why?

 We often attempt to find this answer in the news and social media.  During this war we have all been bombarded with articles attempting to frame a narrative and provide details.  Some call for a quick end to the conflict with a negotiated cease-fire and peace, while most blame one side or another for the continuation and escalation.  The mainstream US media rushes to conclusions, ignoring the Hamas rockets have been found in THREE UN schools.  People on social media yell at each other and when any of their friends criticize Israel, are quick to pull the anti-Semitism card, effectively shutting down all dialogue.  Free Palestine supporters post pictures of children and decry the “disproportional response” by Israel.  Rallies for peace, occupation, protest, and annihilation have been held throughout the world.

 Temple Emanuel hosted a rally in our sanctuary, early in the war, co-sponsored by almost all Denver synagogues, Jewish Colorado, and the ADL which I did attend.  It was not political and it allowed those our community to gather in face of a growing crisis.  However, my choice not to attend the “Let her win” rally was validated as I watched videos of Jews booing state representative Rhonda Fields as she declared “It is time for peace; it’s time for diplomacy.”  The head of Americans Against Terrorism told reporters, “There must be no ceasefire. Israel must finish the job once and for all, demilitarize Gaza and destroy Hamas.”  Booing peace and rejecting a ceasefire is not Jewish, it is an example of sinat chinam, baseless hatred.

Through a Talmudic parable, the rabbis go so far as to blame the destruction of the Jerusalem on baseless hatred between Jews:

 A certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy called Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, “Go and bring Kamtza.” The servent went and brought Bar Kamtza [his enemy].  When the host found Bar Kamtza he said, “What are you doing here? You are my enemy; Get out!”

Bar Kamtza replied: “Since I am already here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.”

The host said: “Absolutely not.”

“Then let me give you half the cost of the party.” Bar Kamtza said

The host refused.

“Then let me pay for the whole party.”

Still the host refused, and took [Bar Kamtza] by the hand and threw him out.

Said Bar Kamtza, “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop the host, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them to the government.”

He went and said to the emperor, “The Jews are rebelling against you.”[1]

Because the host acted with baseless hatred, sinat chinam, and the rabbis at the party did not speak out against this clear transgression to love your neighbor, Bar Kamtza felt compelled to act against them.  The rabbis say that it was because of the host’s hatred of Bar Kamtza and the fact that no one intervened, that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem.  Hatred killed Omer, Matan and Daniel, dozens more Israeli soldiers and 1800 Palestinians, and baseless hatred – Sinat Chinam – is driving a wedge within the Jewish community. 

We must find an antidote to the hate, and protect  both the State of Israel and the children of Israel together.  Rav Abraham Isaac Kook – the first chief rabbi of Israel –  in discussing the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza writes: “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with unconditional love — ahavat chinam.[2]

Rav Kook teaches that God commands us to engage in baseless love, ahavat chinam.  After repeating the Ten Commandments which we heard tonight, God tells the Israelites: “Sh’ma Yisrael, listen Israel, Love Adonai your God, and don’t forget to follow my commandments.[3]”  But that might be hard for us to remember, how can we always remember all 613 commandments?  So God distills this message further: “Do what is right and good in the sight of the Eternal.[4]” Our rabbis agree that this means that we have a moral obligation to go beyond what is legally required of us.  Instead of letting ourselves succumb to baseless hatred, we must instead practice unconditional love, ahavat chinam.  We must love each other without judgment. 

 When we turn on the TV or the computer, we see that the media is biased against Israel, fundamentalists seek her destruction, and anti-Semitism is terrifyingly rising around the world.  The world is filled with baseless hatred and we must react with unconditional love.  Israel can, will and must defend herself physically from Hamas, I have no doubt.  But we must also help Israel defend herself against baseless hatred  -= not with more hatred, but with acts of love.  Defend Israel not by talking about the evil of Hamas but of the humanitarian aid Israel delivered to Haiti, not by the evils of ISIS but by the irrigation technology developed in Israel and used around the world.  Defend Israel not by advocating for more violence against our enemies but by advocating for peace.

I don’t have a framework for peace in Gaza, and we all hope and pray Hamas will stop firing its rockets and no more children will die (and when I say “children,” I am also including Israeli soldiers).  Yet even without a complete solution for peace, we must do what is right and good and spread ahavat chinam – unconditional love.  As Diaspora Jews we must help push Israel towards truly advocating for a two-state solution and negotiating with anyone willing to talk to us.  The Israeli government acted with baseless hatred through its unwillingness to talk to the new Palestinian unity government formed weeks before the war.  Hamas declares that it wants a complete destruction of Israel, but we must demonstrate that we want a complete construction of peace.  And that we’ll talk about peace, anytime, with anyone, for as long as it takes.  We must not let our fear steer us away the goal of peace and of unconditional love. 

My friends,  I’m afraid.  I’m afraid that if we simply maintain the status quo of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank without change, that Israel won’t exist forever.  I’m afraid that we’ll let baseless hatred overcome us, prevent us from pursuing peace, and instead build more rockets, missiles, and walls, none of which will bring peace.

 Most importantly, we CANNOT let sinat chinam – baseless hatred  – destroy our Jewish community.  When we speak with others, Jewish or not, we must remember Rav Kook’s teaching of turning baseless hatred into unconditional love.  We must not refute someone’s comments, based in fact or fiction, with anger.  Rather we can diffuse anger with common values.  We can ask, “What values led you to this conclusion?”  Really?  I share that value too!”  We can end our conversations there or choose to engage on a much more personal level and fight against hate with love.

 I don’t want to have to choose whether or not I attend the next Israel rally.  I don’t want more rallies, I want community gatherings where we pray for peace and support each other in this tough time.  I want real dialogue and I want real, lasting, and sustainable peace.  Peace between Israel and her neighbors, and peace in the Jewish community.  May this peace swiftly come in our days, and may we inherit it forever. 

 Shabbat Shalom, may we all have a Shabbat of peace and love.

[1] Talmud Bavli, Gittin 56a

[2] Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324

[3] Deut. 6:4

[4] Deut. 6:18

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