In a previous blog presentation of mine, Torah Advice on Responding to Negative Emotions -- also written to mark the mourning period of The Three Weeks in which we remember the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem – I offered a somewhat novel understanding of the term sinat chinum. As I mentioned there, the literal translation of this term would be ‘free hatred’ but it is generally explained as baseless hatred. It is described as hatred that is free in that it really has no basis. I, however, offered a different definition of this term as ‘purposeless hatred’. The concern inherent in this expression is, I believe, not how the hate came to be, from where it came, but in how one should respond to it. What is its purpose if it has any? The call is thus not to look back but to look forward. This idea, I believe, actually permeates this time period. In the Three Weeks, we are called upon to fully recognize that negative elements of reality exist. The essential question then is: how are we to best respond to this? How are we to go forward?
Of course, we can only determine how we should respond to these heart-rending events of history – including the horrific destructions of our Holy Temples with all the misery that ensued in the subsequent aftermaths – if we, first, face the facts of this past. We must, of course, first look back and, yes, feel the pain. The true challenge we face, though, is in how we are to proceed from there. What we are to then recognize is that the Torah’s call is always to move forward. What is important is what’s next and the call of Torah is always to make what’s next an ascent, an improvement.
This concept is, perhaps, best embodied in the famous statement of the Sages that the Messiah was born on Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, the specific date upon which the Temples were actually destroyed. This statement of birth is not necessarily to be taken literally that the physical person of the Messiah is to be born on this date. It, though, is an emphatic declaration of this idea that even at our lowest point, we are to see the possibility of heights in the future. We are to look forward with the determination that we can make life better. This is not a simple call of optimism. It is a recognition, in the midst of feeling our pain, that the true challenge is in how to improve and make things better. It is only in accepting responsibility for our failures that we can further recognize that we have within ourselves the potential to improve.
Of course, this is not to, in any way, imply that the Jewish misfortunes throughout history were, thus, solely our fault. These painful events which the Jewish People experienced were clearly the results of the undertakings of evil individuals. We cannot and should not negate this truth. We must always identify and proclaim the evils which we have faced and continue to face. Even, though, as we mark these tragedies which were thrust upon us by others, we still cannot and should not just define ourselves as victims. We must still accept some responsibility. We must always determine what we can do to improve. The Jewish People have always moved forward.
This is also a significant lesson of this time period. We fall and this fall must call upon us to also determine our failings which may have played a role in this fall. This can only be undertaken if we truly acknowledge the fall, feel its pain, and confront the responsible failings within us. We can only take control of that for which we are responsible and while there may be many external reasons for tragic results, we can only improve upon a situation to the extent that we have control of the situation – and this we must do. We must always determine how we can correct these failings and avoid further falls. The Messiah is born in this climb to be better.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht is the Founding Director of Nishma, which fosters the critical investigation of contemporary issues. For further info, see www.nishma.org and nishmablog.blogspot.com. You can follow Rabbi Hecht on Twitter @NishmaTorah.
Rabbi Hecht has been a Panelist for Jewish Values Online for several years, responding to questions. You can find his answers by visiting Jewish Values Online, selecting the ‘View all panelists’ link, and clicking his name. A link will appear with his bio to show all answers he has submitted. Rabbi Hecht’s essay “Why Be Jewish?” was selected as one of the three best blogs for the first Quarter of 5779.
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
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