Every year on Tish’ah B’av, the day on which our Holy Temple was destroyed, we mourn the awful fate which has befallen our nation. Many of our woes can be attributed to the destruction of the Holy Temple, which resulted in our current state of national exile. Not only do we suffer from this terribly on a spiritual level, the Talmud tells us (Sotah 49a), that since the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, every day brings more curses than the previous one. What will it take to bring our misery to its end?
The Chofetz Chaim (in the introduction) discusses this and says that we should look at what caused the destruction and exile in the first place. It is only natural that by rectifying the problem that sent us into our unfortunate state we will bring the redemption. As long as we fall short in correcting our original error which brought about the destruction, how can we expect our misery to end?
What is it that caused this great calamity? The Talmud tells us (Yoma 9b) that it was “sin’as chinam” – unwarranted hatred. We might take this to mean that people became obnoxious and ruthless. But this is not the case. The Talmud states clearly the people of that era were very much involved in Torah, Mitzvos (Torah commandments) and acts of kindness. If so, what was so terrible about their conduct which caused such destruction?
Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (Da’as Chochmo Umussar, Vol. 2 Ma’amar 24) explains that the problem was with the depth of which this trait was embedded in their minds. While outwardly they may have come across as having fine character in the way they behaved, there was a sinister flaw rooted deep inside them. Despite the acts of kindness they were performing, in the inner recesses of their hearts they were lacking in their love for all Jews. Unwarranted animosity had seeped its way deep inside them, and this caused the terrible destruction and exile we suffer to this day.
This is quite alarming. We like to think of ourselves as, generally speaking, fine people. While we may not be counted among hard criminals, we may be the ones responsible for prolonging our exile, in which we suffer so much.
How often is it that we feel jealous of someone and this leads us to have negative feelings towards that person? Sometimes we feel that others think that they are better than us. Whether it’s true or not, does this give us a license to harbor hard feelings against them? If someone is different than us or behaves with lower standards than what we consider ideal, is that a reason to look down at them? If any of these notions creep up in our minds from time to time, we might not have completely eradicated sin’as chinam from our hearts.
Rebbetzin Machlis was famous for her love for every Jew. Together with her husband, she hosted throngs of people of all sorts for the weekly Sabbath meals. Perhaps the following story gives some insight into her uncompromising love for all: Once at the Sabbath meal, sat a young college student who decided to make it his business to mock his host. Following every Torah thought Rabbi Machlis shared, this student retorted with scorn and remarks of derision. It got to a point when Rabbi Machlis just couldn’t take it anymore. He did not wish to challenge his guest, but he decided he had to leave. His wife saw what transpired and encouraged her husband to stay. She told him, “Don’t pay attention to his external behavior; talk to his soul.” She never judged a person by the way he behaved. She was able to see past the way a person conducted himself on the surface, and appreciate the holy soul every Jew possess.
For most people, this is no small challenge. It’s easy to proclaim we love everyone. But do we really? By nature, a person is constantly judging. We instinctively begin assessing every person we meet. This can easily lead us to being judgmental, especially if we feel threatened by the fact that someone has higher or lower standards than us in any area, has different views than us, or acts in a way we find strange.
As soon as this happens, we must steer ourselves clear of falling into the trap of sin’as chinam. While we may not engage in outright strife, that’s not enough. Even if we are generally kind and courteous, sin’as chinam might still be lingering in our hearts. It is our duty to do our part in bringing the redemption this Tish’ah B’av by overcoming our negative instincts and ensuring we feel positively about every Jew; to ignite genuine love in our hearts for our people. We must learn to see past the superficialities of people which turn us off, and focus on the cherished and holy soul possessed by every Jew.
By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)