Do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother.
Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land. (Deut. 23:8)
Two verses in this week’s portion deal with the prohibition to hate. The portion deals with so many other issues that it’s easy to miss this commandment – do not hate.
But why these particular two verses?
The Egyptians of Moses’ day had enslaved the Israelites, “embittered their lives”, subjected them to a ruthless regime of intensely hard labor and forced them to eat the bread of affliction. They had embarked on a program of attempted genocide, Pharaoh commanding his people to throw “every male [Israelite] child born, into the river” (Ex. 1:22). And God tells the next generation of Israelites: ‘do not hate’?
It’s as if none of this had happened, as if the Israelites owed the Egyptians a debt of gratitude for their hospitality. Yet Moses and the people were where they were only because they were escaping from Egyptian persecution. Nor did he want the people to forget it. It is commanded in the Torah that every year on Passover we are to remember what the Egyptians did. But why? So we would never succumb to enslaving others.
What is really at stake here with these two verses cuts to the very heart of what is about to happen to the children of Israel. It is nearly time to enter the Land and Moses knows that in order to live in freedom, you must let go of hatred. A free and moral society cannot be built by people consumed with hatred and resentment. It just doesn’t work.
Bitterness, resentment, humiliation, a sense of injustice, the desire to inflict injury on your former persecutors are all evidences of a profound lack of freedom. Those who hold on to anger against their persecutors remain captives. They may be ‘free’ externally but the soul is in captivity and poisons the mind and the emotions. Anyone who allows their ‘enemy’ or ‘persecutor’ to define who they are has no understanding of freedom.
What Moses is telling them is that they must live with the past, but not in the past.
Hatred and freedom cannot coexist. To create and maintain a non-persecuting society out of people who have been persecuted, the chains of the past must be broken; memory robbed of its sting; and pain re-directed into constructive purpose and the determination to build a different future.
Hatred projects our conflicts onto someone else whom we can blame but only at the cost of denying our own responsibility. That was Moses’ message to those who were about to enter the promised land: that a free society can be built only by people who accept the responsibility of freedom; by a people who are not defined by what they hate but by what they dream and work for. This was the insightful message of Dr. Martin Luther King, among others. Dr. King once said: Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness. How right he was…and still is.
People who hate harbor a permanent feeling of injury, a feeling that is out of all proportion to reality. In their subconscious a perverse feeling convinces them that they alone possess the truth, that they are some kind of superhumans, and thus deserve the world’s complete recognition and submissiveness. They want to be the center of the world and become deeply, even violently irritated when those around them do not recognize them as such.
They are like spoiled or badly brought up children who think their mother exists only to wait on their every whim and who throw a tantrum if she occasionally does something else, like spending time with her other children, her husband, a book or her work. They interpret it as a personal attack instead of normal living.
Ultimately the hater is obsessed with himself.
Some have suggested that those who hate suffer from an inferiority complex. Actually the opposite is true: the hater is so sure of his own superiority that hate is the only response to those who do not affirm or appreciate his self-generated true worth. A serious face, a quickness to take offense, strong language, shouting, the inability to step outside himself and see his own foolishness – these are typical of one who hates.
Our Torah portion this week enjoins us: Do not hate... Rather choose the way of the prophet who said ‘The joy of the LORD is your strength.’ Nehemiah 8:10
In Tune with Torah this week = is there any hate in your heart towards anyone? If so, this is the time to acknowledge it, repent of it, ask God for freedom from it and determine to change your attitude for the truth is this: Hatred kills the one who harbors it; only love and peace bring health and well-being, physically as well as spiritually.