Weekly Torah Commentary — Devarim July 24, 2015

Deuteronomy/Devarim 1:1 – 3:22

This week we begin the fifth and final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. This particular portion always coincides with the Shabbat before the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, not just once but twice.

The Sages have taught over the centuries that Israel lost the Temple due to the sin of baseless hatred. Divisions, arguments, jealousies and hostilities were allowed to grow and fester in the population so that the unity Moses urged Israel to preserve was destroyed. Among others, the venerable Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of modern Israel, used to teach that as the Temple was destroyed by senseless hatred, it would be rebuilt when Israel returned to the commandment ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Extravagant love in the place of senseless hatred would unite the nation again as the psalmist wrote, Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity…for there the Lord commands the blessing – life forever.

While this teaching sounds simple, it is in fact quite daunting, deserving of serious meditation.

The words “baseless hatred” imply rampant, wanton violence, yet the precise Hebrew phrase is”sin’at hinam”. Literally, ‘hinam’ actually means “free of charge” or “at no cost”. The Torah is not speaking about hatred for no reason at all, but rather a hatred out of proportion.

We generally dislike people for a reason. We justify our dislikes by citing reasons we consider appropriate. Perhaps we have been hurt, insulted, ignored or humiliated in public. Disliking them seems to be our only defense. The problem with that is that more times than we care to admit, our response is not proportional. We “overcharge” for these real or imagined offenses. Then we pay back with interest, and, as we all know, according to the Torah, ‘charging’ interest of a brother is forbidden.

If we are willing to be honest, we would recognize that at times the other person had no intention to hurt. It is our own insecurity and emotional fragility that reacted and judged others as malicious, even when no such malice was intended.

So here’s our dilemma: When accused of senseless hatred, many of us can with utter honesty state that we are innocent. However, if we ask the question a different way, does our conclusion stand that test?

If we have harbored resentments and tried in any way to ‘get even’, we are guilty. Whatever hatred we have for ‘them’ is not “free.” It is protected and nurtured by our un-forgiveness.

Our love for others is grounded in the knowledge that every person is created in the image of God. This other person is my brother, sister or perhaps, cousin too-many-times removed. I am obligated by Torah to love and care for him or her, to constantly consider how I can improve their life, to pray for them.

Therein lies the rub: We convince ourselves that the hostility is well-deserved, while the love we are commanded to express is unearned and is given to the undeserving.

How do we resolve this dilemma? The prophet Isaiah wrote that God’s ways are not our ways, neither are His thoughts our thoughts. We are called to see the world and the people in it from God’s perspective rather than our own. We also need to remember that we were created in God’s image and likeness and He commanded us ‘Be holy as I am holy.’

We have all sinned and offended God and His Word. Yet He holds no grudge, nor does He withhold His care. High interest payback is not in His vocabulary! Neither should it be part of our relationship paradigm.

In Tune with Torah this week = taking an honest look at our relationships. Are we harboring any resentment, un-forgiveness or ill will towards anyone else? Are we very sure that they actually intended to hurt us or have we ‘assumed’ or ‘presumed’ we knew their intention? Could we be wrong in our assessment of what happened? Can we admit that we may have misunderstood the incident and rushed to an incorrect conclusion? Moses was called by God ‘the most humble man on the face of the earth.’ Could my relationships be improved with a bit more humility injected into them – on MY part?

Shabbat Shalom

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