Rectifying Baseless Hatred
Why was the Second Temple destroyed? The Sages in Yoma 9b noted that the people at that time studied Torah, observed mitzvot and performed good deeds. Their great failure was in sinat chinam – baseless hatred. It was internal strife and conflict that ultimately brought about the Temple’s destruction.
How may we rectify this sin of sinat chinam? Rav Kook wrote, in one of his most oft-quoted statements:
“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 vol. III, p. 324)
This call for baseless love could be interpreted as following Maimonides’ advice on how to correct bad character traits. In the fourth chapter of Shemonah Perakim, Maimonides taught that negative traits are corrected by temporarily overcompensating and practicing the opposite extreme. For example, one who is naturally stingy should balance this trait by acting overly generous, until he succeeds in uprooting his miserliness. Similarly, by going to the extreme of ahavat chinam, we repair the trait of sinat chinam.
This interpretation, however, is not Rav Kook’s line of thought. Ahavat chinam is not a temporary remedy, but an ideal, the result of our perception of the world’s underlying unity and goodness.
The Source of Hatred
Why do we hate others? We may think of many reasons why, but these explanations are not the real source for our hatred of other people. They are merely signs and indications of our hatred. It is a lack of clarity of thought that misleads us into believing that these are the true causes of hatred.
The true source of hate comes from our otzar hachaim, our inner resource of life. This fundamental life-force pushes us to live and thrive, and opposes all that it views as different and threatening. Ultimately, our hate is rooted in sinat chinam – groundless and irrational animosity, just because something is different.
Yet even in hatred lies a hidden measure of love. Baseless love and baseless hatred share a common source, a love of life and the world. This common source hates that which is evil and destructive, and loves that which is good and productive.
How can we overcome our hatred? If we can uncover the depth of good in what we perceive as negative, we will be able to see how good will result even from actions and ideas that we oppose. We will then recognize that our reasons for hatred are unfounded, and transform our hatred into love and appreciation.
‘I Burn with Love’
This idea of ahavat chinam was not just a theoretical concept. Rav Kook was well-known for his profound love for all Jews, even those far removed from Torah and mitzvot. When questioned why he loved Jews distant from the ideals of Torah, he would respond, “Better I should err on the side of baseless love, than I should err on the side of baseless hatred.”
Stories abound of Rav Kook’s extraordinary love for other Jews, even those intensely antagonistic to his ways and beliefs. Once Rav Kook was publicly humiliated by a group of extremists who showered him with waste water in the streets of Jerusalem. The entire city was in an uproar over this scandalous act. The legal counsel of the British Mandate advised Rav Kook to press charges against the hooligans, promising that they would be promptly deported from the country. The legal counsel, however, was astounded by the Chief Rabbi’s response.
“I have no interest in court cases. Despite what they did to me, I love them. I am ready to kiss them, so great is my love! I burn with love for every Jew.”
Practical Steps towards Ahavat Chinam
In his magnum opus Orot HaKodesh, Rav Kook gave practical advice on how to achieve this love.
Love for the Jewish people does not start from the heart, but from the head. To truly love and understand the Jewish people – each individual Jew and the nation as a whole — requires a wisdom that is both insightful and multifaceted. This intellectual inquiry is an important discipline of Torah study.
Loving others does not mean indifference to baseness and moral decline. Our goal is to awaken knowledge and morality, integrity, and refinement; to clearly mark the purpose of life, its purity and holiness. Even our acts of loving-kindness should be based on a hidden Gevurah, an inner outrage at the world’s — and thus our own — spiritual failures.
If we take note of others’ positive traits, we will come to love them with an inner affection. This is not a form of insincere flattery, nor does it mean white-washing their faults and foibles. But by concentrating on their positive characteristics — and every person has a good side — the negative aspects become less significant.
This method provides an additional benefit. The Sages cautioned against joining with the wicked and exposing oneself to their negative influence. But if we connect to their positive traits, then this contact will not endanger our own moral and spiritual purity.
We can attain a high level of love for Israel by deepening our awareness of the inner ties that bind together all the souls of the Jewish people, throughout all the generations. In the following revealing passage, Rav Kook expressed his own profound sense of connection with and love for every Jewish soul:
“Listen to me, my people! I speak to you from my soul, from within my innermost soul. I call out to you from the living connection by which I am bound to all of you, and by which all of you are bound to me. I feel this more deeply than any other feeling: that only you — all of you, all of your souls, throughout all of your generations — you alone are the meaning of my life. In you I live. In the aggregation of all of you, my life has that content that is called ‘life.’ Without you, I have nothing. All hopes, all aspirations, all purpose in life, all that I find inside myself — these are only when I am with you. I need to connect with all of your souls. I must love you with a boundless love….
“Each one of you, each individual soul from the aggregation of all of you, is a great spark from the torch of infinite light, which enlightens my existence. You give meaning to life and work, to Torah and prayer, to song and hope. It is through the conduit of your being that I sense everything and love everything.” (Shemonah Kevatzim, vol. I, sec. 163)
(Silver from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Orot HaKodesh vol. III, pp. 324-334; Malachim K’vnei Adam, pp. 262, 483-485)