“If you see the ox of the one you hate toppling under its burden – will you neglect helping him? You shall surely help him.” (23:5) – Who is this enemy of yours the verse is referring to? You might say – the fellow you don’t like all that much – but the gemarra is puzzled -because there is a Torah prohibition to hate another Jew. The gemarra also asks why he is called “your’ enemy, which implies that he is not objectively wicked, or an enemy of the people, but somehow just your enemy. The gemarra concludes that the case must be referring to where you witnessed this Jew transgressing some sin. However, since the Torah only permits testimony to be accepted by the mouth of two witnesses, to publicize his evil would be loshon hara or libel, since it would not come to anything in court.
So why can you hate him? “Lovers of Hashem hate evil” – Psalms – A child who sees another insulting or hurting or rebelling against his father will naturally be jealous and defensive for his father’s honor and be upset with his antagonist. So too, the one who does evil is not only hurting himself, but he is hurting your Father in heaven, and he is also hurting the whole world, since we are all on the same boat and his negative momentum drags everybody down. Thus the gemarra concludes it is permitted to hate such a person, and even, perhaps a mitzvah.
Nevertheless, the Torah is telling us to get up and help our nemesis. Why? To go even further, the gemarra rules that if at the same time, one finds both his enemy trying to load his donkey, and his friend trying to unload his, that you must first help your enemy. This, mind you is not a small wonder, for along with the mitzvah of helping your friend unload, there is also the mitzvah of alleviating the animal’s suffering, which would certainly seems to give it precedence over your enemy, whom you have no obligation to help – and perhaps even a mitzvah to hate. – So again we must ask – Why??
Tosfos answers that even though you are permitted to hate him for his sin, there lies a great danger anytime we get involved in the volatile attribute of hatred that it will inflate and take on a life of its own. As Solomon, the wisest of men says in Proverbs, “as a water is to a face, so one man’s heart will reflect his friend’s”. Thus when he senses that you hate him, he will hate you back, and so too will find more causes to find fault with him, and soon what began as permissible hate has breached the bounds of severe transgressions of hatred.
The Baal HaTanya (1st Lubavitcher Rebbe), explains the distinction between permitted and prohibited hatred. It is correct to hate the sin, the act, the destructive habit, but the Torah does not allow us to hate the person, for his essence is always pure, and his wicked deeds cannot entirely corrupt his yiddisher neshama. We can use the great principle in Torah -love you peer as you love yourself -as a lightpost in this path, for despite our many faults and shortcomings we still love ourselves, and even though we see ourselves repeat the same foolishness and garbage over and over, we never come to an absolute and permanent hatred of ourselves. Once we see that each person is as precious and wonderful as we are, and in fact every Jew is our brother and sister, and in a deeper truth, we are all really one, we will find it impossible and ridiculous to engrain in ourselves a deep hatred for a fellow Jew. So we see that the Torah is not merely a code of pragmatic norms and utilitarian mores, but rather a holistic guide as to how to be and think and feel -and our hearts are also in the bounds of halacha.
Now that we know how dangerous it is to get involved in hate and anger, we ought to avoid it from the start. The Gaon Chazon Ish ZT”L, a giant in halacha, and leader of our people around fifty years ago wrote a letter responding to a student who asked him about whether to request a certain favour from somebody. He advised his pupil to be very deliberate and cautious to determine whether his request would be heeded, for those who are prone to ask things of other are at a great risk to come to criticism and grudges when their wishes are denied, and those feelings will swell, and eventually the requested will sense it, and respond by finding cause to resent and degrade him back. And even if he complies, perhaps it will only be begrudgingly, and the same process will ensue, albeit more subtly. How sensitive, and heroic the Torah wants us to strive to be to ensure that we live in harmony with the Shulchan Aruch (halacha)!!
The Rav of Jerusalem in the first half of the 20th century, Chaim Sonnenfeld ZT’L, as with anybody in a position of leadership, would be subject to many affronts and accusers, many of whom did not conduct themselves with the respect due to a pious sage, and shepherd of our (not so easy to manage) people. To the surprise of many, he would routinely call to his attackers and express that he wholly forgives them for any pain and insult they caused to him and his family – and particular, quite often, to most crass and brazen antagonists. He explained to his colleagues that he suspected that if he waited for them to realize their misdeeds on their own, there was too great a chance that their will for self-justification would prevail over any true repentance, and even go further away, and thus at least by forgiving them, they would have a clean slate on Rosh Hashana, besides the fact that with his initiation of peace, they would also be more likely to reciprocate.
These mitzvos are not reserved for saints and sages, but written for us, for we can all grow in them, and make ourselves into delightful and compassionate people, for the world to see how great is Judaism and its Torah. My dad has always tried to encourage me to pursue peace and forgive old debts and grudges, because, even when it is permitted to allow hate to enter our hearts, we don’t want to keep it there, for the ideal for a Jew is to carry love and favour in his heart, let’s all try our best.
Have a peaceful shabbos,
-Beth Shifra Crew