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just call it h

07/21/2022 09:18:14 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

The Rabbis of the Talmud had a term for it: Sinat Chinam, causeless H. This was their explanation of the cause for the destruction of both Holy Temples, which we recall on Tisha B’av, and occurs this year on August 7. The Rabbis even went so far as to memorialize a story about one man publicly insulting another at his daughter’s wedding, with one Rabbi witnessing it and saying nothing as a silent assent. The insulted party went to Rome and connived a plan that led to the destruction of the Second Holy Temple. Did the story really occur? What matters more is the lesson derived by the Rabbis. Sinat Chinam, in this case one person publicly expressing H to another, can be catastrophic.

The Rabbis of the Talmud were pacifists, and felt that the best way to handle the challenges of either being ruled by a foreign conqueror or living in a country where one was a minority, was to exhibit peaceful gestures, not make waves, and not offend the rulers. Avtaylon expressed this sentiment perfectly in Pirkei Avot 1:11: Sages, be careful what you say lest you be exiled by the authorities. The Rabbis did not want to glorify any examples of military prowess, and molded the Maccabean victory into a story of a miracle of oil. Rabban Gamliel taught in Pirkei Avot 2:3: Be wary of the authorities! They do not befriend anyone unless it serves their own needs. They appear as friend when it is to their advantage, but do not stand by a person in an hour of need. The Rabbinic attitude would infuse communal decisions for centuries in how Jewish communities related to the authorities.

The great piety of the Rabbis also meant that any catastrophe in the Jewish community was a manifestation of God’s displeasure with the Jewish community. The greatest catastrophe, destruction of both Holy Temples, was the ultimate trauma, and the Rabbis had to search for a human cause. What had the Jewish community done to warrant such an extreme response from God? Sinat Chinam was the answer. They were unwilling to acknowledge that the history of the world is replete with nations conquering nations.

As I stared at the words Sinat Chinam, I wondered to myself if there is a form of H that is not causeless. Is there such an emotion as H with good cause? I mulled this over as I reflected upon my own journey and my vow to never utter the H word. My own take is that no matter the form of H, any form is not good. Sen. Alan Simpson remarked at the funeral for President George H. W. Bush that H corrodes from the inside. I would offer that the adjective “causeless” is less relevant, as the cause does not matter. Any form of H is bad, and cannot be tolerated. Far more enticing would be Ahavat Chinam, causeless love. That is something more worthy to engage in regularly. Skip the H; focus on the love.

Wed, February 28 2024 19 Adar I 5784