Love and Hate That are Not Baseless
Based on a sicha by HaRav
Adapted by Lavi Bigman
Translated by David
Everything is based on interests
The Gemara in tractate Megilla (26b) discusses the various
situations in which the sanctity of a synagogue can expire. After the Gemara
deals with the case of sale, it asks:
[With regard to a synagogue which has been made] a gift,
Rav Acha and Ravina disagree: One forbids [it to be used for secular purposes],
and one permits this.
A simple explanation of the disagreement might be suggested: The question
is whether the sanctity of a synagogue expires only when the congregation
receives something in exchange for the synagogue, or whether the act of
disowning the synagogue by itself suffices. In the continuation, the Gemara
explains the various arguments:
The one who forbade did so on the ground that there is
nothing through which its sanctity can be transferred, while the one who
permitted it argued that if he [the giver] did not derive some benefit from
the act he would not give it, so that in the end the gift is equivalent to a
That is to say, the Gemara assumes that people do not distribute gifts
freely; they expect to receive some benefit in return. If you like, what we have
here is a cynical view of human nature – everything is based on interests.
This idea is manifestly pessimistic, and therefore anybody driven by those
schools of thought that paint a rosy picture of the human soul will be
disappointed; the Gemara does not bring an alternative view that adopts a more
positive outlook regarding the soul of man.
In tractate Gittin (50b) as well, we encounter identical
arguments, though they relate to a different law. There the discussion relates
to the Mishna’s ruling that “payment cannot be recovered from mortgaged property
when there are free assets available.” If the borrower has assets that had been
sold to another party, but he also owns free assets, the lender cannot recover
his debt from the mortgaged property in the hands of the buyer. In the
continuation the Gemara asks about assets that had been given away as a gift,
rather than sold, and the wording is very similar to that found in tractate
…Or do we say this even in the case of a gift, for if he
did not derive some benefit from it he would not have given him the gift,
and therefore his loss is on the same footing as the loss of the buyer.
The Gemara here understands the way that a gift operates in the same way
that the Gemara in Megilla understood it: A gift does not stem solely
from the goodness of the giver’s heart, but also from self-interest.
Why have I cited
these passages? It is not my intention to deal with Gittin or Megilla,
with the laws of a synagogue or with the collection of a debt. But I wish to
understand the Gemara’s hidden message. The Gemara poses the following question:
Is it possible to speak of a gift that is given absolutely freely? In these
passages Chazal examine man’s inner world, assessing the extent to which
his considerations are idealistic or economic.
During the Three Weeks we remember the shocking and terrifying
destruction that befell the people of Israel two thousand years ago. So too must
we confront Chazal’s assessment of the causes that led up to that
destruction. Chazal distinguished between the circumstances leading to
the destruction of the First Temple and those associated with the destruction of
the Second Temple. There are dreadful accounts of the First Temple period; even
though there were ups and downs, the overall picture is very gloomy. The
problems of the First Temple period included idolatry, incest and bloodshed.
Anyone who doesn’t understand the message in the narrative sections of the books
of Melakhim and Divrei Ha-yamim can open the books of Yeshaya
and Yirmiya and see the full picture.
The Second Temple period presents a sharply different picture: the
institution of the synagogue begins to take hold alongside that of the Temple;
Torah study and loyalty to the Sages of Israel are on the rise. Here too there
were ups and downs, but the general impression is that during this period the
people are clearly committed to the Torah and to observance of the mitzvot.
Chazal understood that in order to explain the destruction of the Second
Temple, we must look elsewhere and find problems that differ from those of the
First Temple period. As is well known, Chazal turned their eyes to what
they called sin’at chinam, “baseless hatred.”
getting to the root of the problem
Here arise several questions: Granted that baseless hatred is an
undesirable phenomenon, but in what way is it so severe that it brought about
the destruction of the Temple? There is a prohibition, “You shall not hate your
brother in your heart,” but is the violation of this prohibition so serious that
the Temple should be destroyed on its account? We have it on the authority of
Rabbeinu Yona that a negative commandment that does not involve an action is
less severe than a negative commandment that involves an action!
It seems to me that there is an important point that must be kept in
mind. It might very well be that on the scale of sins and transgressions,
baseless hatred does not stand at the top of the pyramid. There is no specific
prohibition of “baseless hatred”; there is only a prohibition of hatred.
However, in the list of sins composed by the Geonim and recited as part of
confession on Yom Kippur (“Al chet”), a distinction is made between
hatred and baseless hatred. What is the difference between them?
The list of sins in the “Al chet” confession is not meant to be
comprehensive. We are dealing with a list that relates not only to sins,
but also to the sinner. This confession focuses upon the individual and
collective awareness that we are all sinners. Here enter all kinds of
problematic qualities and behaviors that are not necessarily included in the
list of prohibitions; and even if they are found there, it is not necessarily at
connection, I have frequently mentioned the words of the Rambam who noted this
A person should not think that repentance is only necessary
for those sins that involve a deed such as promiscuity, robbery, or theft.
Rather, just as a person is obligated to repent from these, similarly, he must
search out his evil character traits. He must repent from anger, hatred, envy,
frivolity, the pursuit of money and honor, the pursuit of gluttony, and the
like. He must repent for all [of the above]. These sins are more difficult than
those that involve deeds. If a person is attached to these, it is more difficult
for him to separate himself…. (Hilkhot Teshuva 7:3)
Rambam writes that these are more difficult, he is not referring to the severity
of the prohibition, but rather to the influence that it has on the person.
If we ask ourselves what is the place of baseless hatred, the answer is that
it involves a violation of a negative commandment. However, it was not the
transgression and its severity that brought Chazal to list baseless
hatred as the cause of the destruction of the Temple, but rather its impact on
the individual and upon the nation.
this so? For a simple reason that brings us back to the starting point: What is
meant by baseless hatred? Does a person wake up in the morning and decide for no
reason that he can’t stand his neighbors? If some ulterior motive underlies
unwarranted love and unwarranted gifts (as we saw in the talmudic
passages cited above), there must be some reason behind unwarranted hatred.
There is really no such thing as baseless hatred; it merely seems
level of self-interest must a person reach in order to engage in “baseless”
hatred? It was because of this lack of sensitivity, because of a disregard of
general human ethics, because of a rejection of values – it was because of
contempt for all these things and holding fast only to those things that are
closest to a person’s heart that the Temple was destroyed.
a sin, and an unpleasant one at that. But the circumstances which breed such
hatred – that hatred referred to as “baseless hatred” because the individual
does not understand its source – it is there that corruption thrives. For this
we say “Al chet,” and from this it is difficult to set oneself free.
relates to what happened in the time of Chazal, but it has ramifications
for later generations as well. The Mishna states:
rests on three foundations: Torah, Divine service and the practice of
loving-kindness. (Avot 1:2)
These are the foundations upon which the world rests; and when these are
undermined, the world collapses.
We have learned from the Rambam at the beginning of Hilkhot Ta’aniyot
that fasting is merely a fulfillment by rabbinic decree of the mitzva of
crying out to God. By Torah law the mitzva is to cry out and to sound
trumpets in the event of any distress that arises. The Rambam emphasizes
that this is all part of repentance and introspection:
…This practice is one of the paths of repentance, for when
distress arises, and the people cry out [to God] and sound the trumpets,
everyone will realize that [the distressing situation] occurred because of their
evil conduct… This [realization] will cause the removal of this distress.
Conversely, should the people fail to cry out [to God] and
sound the trumpets, and instead say, “What has happened to us is merely a
natural phenomenon and this distress is merely a chance occurrence,” this is a
cruel conception of things, which causes them to remain attached to their wicked
deeds. Thus, this time of distress will lead to further distresses. (Hilkhot
The Rambam emphasizes two points: First, the recognition that the
troubles that befall us are due to our immersion in sin; second, the obligation
to locate the failing and that which needs correction. The Rambam says the same
thing regarding the fixed fasts commemorating events of the past:
There are days when the entire Jewish people fast because
of the calamities that occurred to them then, to arouse [their] hearts and
initiate [them in] the paths of repentance. This will serve as a reminder of our
wicked conduct and that of our ancestors, which resembles our present conduct
and therefore brought these calamities upon them and upon us…. (ibid. 5:1)
We see, then, that fast days were instituted for the purpose of
introspection. What should we examine on a fast day? There are three layers to
this examination. First and foremost, there should be an examination of deeds
– “This will serve
as a reminder of our wicked conduct and that of our ancestors.”
There is a second layer, that of introspection and soul
searching. On a certain level, introspection relates to a person’s conduct –
what he should have done, and what not. But introspection involves not only an
examination of the deed, but also of the doer, of his soul. The Rambam speaks of
this layer in the passage in Hilkhot Teshuva cited above – those evil
character traits that dull the soul and destroy every good part of it.
There is, however, also a third layer. In addition to the expression in
deed of these negative inclinations, and the negative qualities in themselves,
one should examine the roots of these traits and actions. What made this
possible? From where does the baseless hatred come? We are not dealing with an
examination that contents itself with the surface levels, which are more
comfortable to deal with. We are dealing with a fundamental examination of the
deepest roots of one’s soul. Even the soul has a subterranean layer, from whence
comes the drive to sin and perversity.
This point is to a certain degree based on Scriptural verses. The Rambam,
in that same introduction to chapter 5 of Hilkhot Ta’anit, derives the
matter from the verse: “And they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity
of their fathers” (Vayikra
This verse appears at the end of the rebuke in Parashat Bechukotai.
There is a certain difficulty there regarding the order of the verses, with
which the early commentators already struggled. It first says: “And they shall confess their iniquity, and the
iniquity of their fathers,” which indicates repentance; but immediately
afterwards it says: “And I too shall walk contrary to them, and bring them into
the land of their enemies” (v. 41), and only afterwards do we come to repentance
on the part of the people of Israel: “Then only will their uncircumcised hearts
be humbled” (v. 41), and with it to the hoped-for salvation.
The answer seems clear. Israel did indeed begin to confess their sins
owing to their distress and suffering, but the confessors only reached the outer
layer. They confessed about the actions that grew out of their uncircumcised
heart, but not about the heart itself; they did not deal with the uncircumcised
heart. The purification process had clearly not been completed, and therefore
God still “walks contrary to them,” and only then is their uncircumcised heart
humbled. Only in this way will all the bad qualities be humbled; what we have
here is a repair of the soul, rather than merely a repair of deeds.
A person cannot achieve repair without repairing his deeds, but his deeds
can be repaired without the person achieving repair. It is possible to repair
the sins without repairing the soul.
The end of the verse is unclear – “And they will make amends for their
sin.” Are we dealing here with atonement? It seems to me that it would not be
far-fetched to understand that here we are dealing with the third layer of man’s
self-examination: locating and treating the roots of sin. This is the pinnacle of repair.
If we wish to apply these conclusions to our own circumstances, we should
examine ourselves with respect to the three principles upon which the world of
the individual and of the collective stand: Torah, Divine service and the
practice of loving-kindness.
A person comes to the Yeshiva in order to build himself in these three
realms. He wishes to grow in Torah, in service of God and in his practice of
loving-kindness. A person must constantly engage in introspection – how is he
progressing, what are his difficulties. If he finds that he is failing, he must
ask himself to what extent is he examining not only the external cause, but also
the inner layer, the root of the problem.
Repentance – Obligation, Mitzva,
Many areas leave room for introspection. We must always ask ourselves the
question that arises from the proper understanding of the concept of baseless
hatred: not only what happened, but also what is the root of the
If a Yeshiva student finds that his prayer is a bit dry, that it falls
into the category of “fixed” prayer, of prayer recited by rote – this is
certainly something for which he must seek atonement and repair. But the more
fundamental question is not how his prayer appears, but why does
it appear that way. How is it that a person can sit all day in the beit
midrash, and yet his prayer is dry? It is possible that he will find an
answer in the world of prayer; but it is also possible that the answer lies in
the entirety of his soul – the weakness of his prayer might be an expression of
the weakness of his Torah. Dryness recognizes no borders.
If a person asks himself regarding his acts of loving-kindness, he might
find that he practices kindness, but “drags his feet.” Perhaps he lacks human
sensitivity. And perhaps even when he exerts himself to do good, there is still
something missing in his personality.
If somebody thinks that he came to the Yeshiva to grow in Torah, and that
things will be simple and easy – this is a problem. When he encounters
difficulties, he will point to various factors: a problem with his chavruta,
with his shiur or the like. But a person must ask himself here as well:
What is the root of the problem? What broke him in those crises? Perhaps his
roots do not provide him with sufficiently strong foundations. If his learning
is defective, the problem is not only in his learning; it might stem from a
lack of love of Torah. If he is missing a basic sense of connection, this in
itself is a spiritual catastrophe; but it also has practical ramifications, and
this influences his entire spiritual world.
We stand today on the threshold of Tisha be-Av. At such a time, we are
expected to conduct a fundamental reckoning, in such a manner that we can
understand where the problems are located within us.
If someone has been studying in a Yeshiva for more than a year, and is
not learning as he should, something is going on, and he must deal with the
problem. This is the obligation of repentance, the mitzva of repentance,
and this is an opportunity. Perhaps the first root that must be treated is the
root of opportunity – its exploitation or its neglect: To what extent does a
person who merited to sit in a beit midrash exhaust the opportunities
available to him, and to what extent does he allow them to pass him by?
We have been given the great privilege of being bnei Torah. This
is a privilege that can determine a person’s role within the people of Israel
and within all of humanity.
Let us hope to find what the Gemara sought but did not find: baseless
love. In order that we should find it the next time we examine ourselves, we
must begin to cultivate it already today.
May it be Your will that we should merit, in this period of trouble for
Israel, to rise up, and grow, and aspire increasingly more to be counted among
God’s servants – with all that this entails.
was delivered on the 17th of Tamuz 5768 .)