The destructions of the first and second temples in Jerusalem are seen as two of the most devastating events in Jewish history. Rabbinic literature and tradition draw a direct line between sinat chinam, baseless hatred, and the destruction of these temples.
We read a story in the Talmud about two men with similar names, Kamsa and Bar Kamsa. A wealthy person in the town was throwing a party and sent his servant to invite his friend Kamsa to the gala. Unfortunately, the servant invited the wrong man: Bar Kamsa, who was the host’s enemy. So, at the gala when the host saw his enemy in attendance, he threw him out. Bar Kamsa pleaded with the host, offering to pay for his meal, half of the entire event or even the entire event if he could just stay and enjoy. Yet, the host refused, picked up his enemy and carried him outside. The rabbis that were in attendance saw this terrible interaction and sat idly by. Bar Kamsa was so hurt he looked for revenge and decided to go to the Caesar in charge to start a war. One thing led to another and the Temple was destroyed.
I wish this story sounded less familiar. Yet, over the last few months, I haven’t been able to get this story out of my head. The story seems to be playing on repeat ad nauseum. Last month we had the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The comments that followed this event were horrific.
Rabbi Lau, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi in Israel, refused to call Tree of Life a synagogue because of his views against liberal streams of Judaism. New Jersey orthodox Rabbi Mordechai Aderet told his followers not to attend vigils for the 11 victims because these Jews were murdered during a bris for twins that were adopted by a gay couple. And an orthodox Yiddish newspaper only featured the men that were murdered, not including any pictures of the female victims.
There were, of course, other horrific comments made and politicians who didn’t say enough… but I expect more from our fellow Jews. It saddens me that even in a moment of tragedy some cannot put their hatred aside and mourn as one community.
It used to be easy for me to condemn the entire orthodox world based on headlines like these. Yet after spending three years studying with some of the kindest people I have ever met, who are also orthodox rabbis, my viewpoints and language have shifted. Not all orthodox are the same.
The majority of the orthodox world was mourning alongside Pittsburgh. Most of all people in the United States were mourning. Rabbi Mark Fishman, an orthodox rabbi in Canada, flew to Pittsburgh to comfort the mourners; Rabbi Josh Brodie in Boca helped organize the entire community together for vigils and Shabbat. Rabbi Lila Kagedan led an interfaith vigil continually builds relationships through interfaith work. The RCA, the leading membership organization of Orthodox rabbis in North America sent out an email condemning presumptuous theological justifications of the Pittsburgh massacre. It’s evident based on the unprecedented numbers that attended vigils around the country that the majority of people were shaken, saddened and scared. Just as people in our social circles and family or even we act in horrific ways at times, there are people of all sects, races, genders and religions that use hurtful words.
It doesn’t actually matter how justified we feel in our hatred… even if the other person really did do terrible things. It doesn’t justify hatred on our part. There are no positive examples in the Kamsa/bar Kamsa story. The host acted terribly, no matter if he was justified or not, and no matter how hurt or ashamed or angry Bar Kamsa was, he intentionally started a war that eventually destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. Hatred gets us nowhere. It only destroys what is most sacred to us.
Rav Kook teaches “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with unwarranted love – ahavat chinam.”