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Parashat Debarim: Is it Worth it?

The Gemara famously comments that the Second Temple was destroyed because of the sin of “Sin’at Hinam,” which is literally translated as “baseless hatred,” or hatred for no reason.

I once asked one of my Rabbis about the precise meaning of this term, “Sin’at Hinam.” Is there any hatred that’s really “Hinam,” without any cause or reason? There’s always a reason why we fight with somebody or dislike somebody. When do we choose to hate somebody for no reason?

The Rabbi answered with a fictional story of a teacher who noticed a student playing with his pencil during class. This was obviously a distraction, and so the teacher told the student to stop. But the student continued playing with the pencil, and again, the teacher sternly demanded that he put the pencil down. When the student continued to disobey, the teacher came over to him with a stick, and smacked the child’s wrist with full force, causing a serious injury.

The inicident was quickly reported to the principal, who called in the teacher to reprimand him. He demanded an explanation for the teacher’s violence. The teacher explained that he punished the child because the child was playing with his pencil during class.

The principal, of course, was horrified. “For this misdemeanor you smack a child? This is how you react?”

Most people would agree that the teacher injured the student for no reason. Technically speaking, there was a reason, but the reaction was so destructive and so out of proportion that for all intents and purposes, there was no reason for what he did.

And this is how we must look at all fighting and animosity among Jews. Sure, we have our “reasons,” but when we consider just how destructive fighting is, these are not reasons at all.

And it cannot be overstated how destructive in-fighting among Jews is. Our Sages tell us that there was plenty of Torah study during the time of the Bet Hamikdash. There were Yeshivot and great scholars. But the people couldn’t get along. There was nasty politics and backstabbing. Different factions of Jews worked against each other, rather than with each other. And all the Torah learning in the world couldn’t make up for this tragic situation. We can go to Shiurim and get inspired to learn and do Misvot, but that won’t help us if we can’t get along.

The Gemara (Erubin 18) says that since the Temple was destroyed, the world is run by only two letters – the letters of “Yod” and “Heh.” The Arizal (Rabbi Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) explains that unity among Jews is what keeps the two parts of the divine Name – “Yod” and “Heh,” and “Vav” and “Heh” – together. When there is disunity among Jews, there is disunity in the divine Name, as it were. When we fight, we break God’s Name, removing the “Vav” and “Heh,” leaving only the two letters of “Yod” and “Heh.”

This result of the Temple’s destruction is alluded to in Parashat Debarim. Moshe Rabbenu tells the people that it takes eleven days to journey from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea (1:2). The Keli Yakar (Rav Shlomo Efrayim Luntchitz of Prague, 1550-1619) comments that this verse alludes to the eleven days when we commemorate the Temple’s destruction – the fasts of Asara Be’Tebet and Shiba Asar Be’Tammuz, and the first nine days of Ab (which of course culminate with Tisha B’Ab). These eleven days are “from Horeb” – the result of the destruction (“Hurban”) whose effects we seek to reverse. We observe eleven days because 11 is the combined numerical value of the letters “Vav” and “Heh” – the two letters that are “missing” from the divine Name as a result of our fighting and inability to get along peacefully with one another.

Considering that fighting causes a rupture in the Name of God, all hatred is, indeed, “Hinam” – baseless and senseless. The next time we feel inclined to fight with a fellow Jew, let us ask ourselves, is it worth it? Is it worth destroying God’s Name, extending our state of exile, and negating the positive effects of all the Torah we study and Misvot we perform? Even if we were truly offended, or if we strongly object to what somebody did, is it worth making a fight? Is this any different than crushing a student’s arm because he played with a pencil? Does it make sense to cause such harm because somebody did something wrong to us?

This is the perspective we should have as we look to cure the ill of “Sin’at Hinam” and restore peace and harmony among the Jewish people. Even if we have valid grievances, the fight is not worth it. We are far better off staying together, working together and respecting one another so that we can repair the divine Name and bring our final redemption, speedily and in our days, Amen.

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690 Parashot found