A Dangerous Bridge

The three weeks between the seventeenth of Tammuz , the anniversary of the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the ninth of Av, , the memorial of the destruction of the Temple, is both a time of mourning as well as a time of danger. So dangerous is that time, that our sages proscribed many measures of precaution to be taken on those days. We have also been made aware by our sages that the destruction of the second temple occurred due to “Sinat Chinam- Baseless Hatred “ ( Yoma 9b). The fighting between factions amongst our people and the hatred between individuals created the atmosphere that brought down the House of HaShem. It destroyed a House that was meant to represent divine unity.

As we enter this period of three weeks we are witness, again, to great waves of Sinat Chinam. We watch the secular coming against the Haredi communities and vice versa. We see the Left pitted against the Right and even witness a great schism within the nationalist camp. In each of these situations every opposing side can bring legitimate and lofty reasoning for one’s hatred of the other. Yet in spite of those individual truths this division is destructive, dangerous and ominous. The difficulty of trying to bridge those opposing camps is that each camp is firmly entrenched in its own truth and cannot conceive of trying to understand the perceptions fears and hopes of the other. As in so many cases in interpersonal relationships the individual pride and ego gets in the way.

On the 17th day of Tammuz when Moshe came down from Mount Sinai with the knowledge that his people were sinning with the golden calf he is met halfway by Joshua. Joshua says to him “…There is a voice of battle in the camp!”( Exodus 32:17) But Moshe answers him”[It is] neither a voice shouting victory, nor a voice shouting defeat; a voice of blasphemy I hear ‘Kol Anot Anochi Shomeah’.” ( Exodus 32:18) Yet this could be read as I hear the voice of anochi. I hear the voice of selfish preoccupation ( Enochiyut ) , the voice of arrogant selfishness. This is what led to idolatry. What does arrogance and selfish preoccupation have to do with idolatry.

Since the fast of the 17th day of Tammuz until before Yom Kippur we have begun to read a special weekly series of Hafatarot that reveal and explore the underlying themes and potential ensconced within this season and time. In the first of these series of Haftarot we read the following;

“. And I will utter My judgments against them concerning all their evil, that they left Me and offered up burnt-offerings to other gods and they bowed down to the work of their hands.”( Jeremiah 1:16)

Jeremiah clearly understands the seductive power of idolatry Yet he also describes the illogical silliness in idolatry in an almost satiric fashion.

“ So says the Lord: of the way of the nations you shall not learn…For the statutes( idolatry) of the peoples are vanity, for it is but a stock that one cut from the forest, the handiwork of a carpenter with a small axe. With silver and gold he beautifies it, with nails and with sledge hammers they strengthen them so that it does not bend.Like a palm tree they are beaten, and they do not speak; they are carried for they do not step; fear them not for they will do no harm, neither is it in them to do good. ( Jeremiah 10:2-5)

Yet in our haftara he describes its seductive power

“ (they) offered up burnt-offerings to other gods and they bowed down to the work of their hands.

The words “the work of their hands” is not a description but rather an explanation. Jeremiah is saying that deep within their psyche every idolater knows that the idol that he is bowing down to is a result “of the work of their hands”. That in fact is its enticement, they are actually worshipping themselves, their own ego and arrogance.

We are zealous and become enslaved to a theology and doctrine that makes us feel important and that glorifies us. This is so especially when it glorifies us at the expense of the other. It was that polarization the brought upon us the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem .That idolatry continues to this very day and actually leads to the baseless hatred that is eating away at us in our personal and national lives.

What then are the antidotes and the treatments?

Maran HaRav Kook writes “ If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — Ahavat Chinam. (Orot HaKodesh). We need to learn to understand the other without feeling that we need to agree. Yet without the attempt at reaching out no bridging can ever happen. When all is said and done bridging over the painful wounds and fears is what we need more than anything else. As Reb Nachman teaches that bridge may be a very narrow one , yet we must proceed upon it with no fear. (Likutey Moharan II, 48)

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