Saturday, April 26, 2014
Do Not Hate Your Brother In Your Heart(c)
Parashat Kedoshim, 2014/5774
By Rabbi David Baum
A teacher told me an interesting story this week. In her class, there was an Israeli child who was making fun of an African American boy in her class. The Israeli child kept calling him “poop skin” and laughing at him. The teacher took the boy aside and asked him why he is calling this child names based on his skin color. The child replied: “who cares if I make fun of him, he’s not one of us!”
It was at that moment that the teacher went to her desk, took out a ruler, and brought it to him. As she showed it to him, she asked him one question: “How does this make you feel?”
His face changed immediately – gone was the care free smile and he became angry: “I think it’s terrible - I don't like it.”
What made this boy react this way? The ruler was something the teacher keeps in her drawer, something she found in her class room years ago. On the rule was a picture of a face on it…covered with a swastika.
The teacher told him – I could have thrown this ruler away when I found it, but I keep to remind me of something – if you don’t like being treated in a hateful way, then don’t do it to others.
It seemed to me like a modern Hillel and Shammai story! In a famous story in the Talmud, a non-Jew comes to Shammai and asks him, “Take me on as a student for conversion, but on one condition, that you teach me the entire Torah on one foot” Shammai becomes incensed and actually chases the man away with a rod. The non-Jew comes before Hillel and asks the same thing, and Hillel says, “What is hateful to you, do not do unto your fellow man. This is the entire Torah, all of the rest is commentary, now go and study it.”
Why was Shammai so angry? Maybe because the question can seem like an insult. We cannot read emotions through words, so I wondered: what if the non-Jew was demeaning Judaism? It makes sense doesn’t it? As we know, we have libraries of study, and even our Torah is five books long! How can one possibly summarize it a couple of minutes? It belittles the countless hours of study that a Rabbi spends in his (or her) life time!
With this in mind, Hillel’s response because even more interesting.
He tells the man – do you want to insult others, make unreasonable demands of them, and embarrass them?
That’s not what it means to be a Jew – don’t hate others – it’s that simple – don’t let hate into your heart. If you cannot understand this, than the conversation must end here.
It got me thinking about basic ethics – Judaism does a great job of teaching us what actions we should take – but what about how we should feel in our hearts?
We finally arrive at the heart of Leviticus, parashat Kedoshim, which contains the holiness code. "You shall be holy, for I the Lord God am holy." (Leviticus 19:2) Much of this section deals with ethical behavior. Do not steal or deal deceitfully. Do not defraud your fellow. Pay workers on time. Do not insult the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind. Do not hate your fellow. Do not take vengeance. At then, at the heart of this section is the Golden Rule - love your fellow as yourself.
This is a very famous line that most Jews can recite in Hebrew by heart; this famous line, which Rabbi Akiva declared as the greatest principle of the Torah (k'lal gadol ba-torah, Nedarim 9:4)– V’avahta L’Re’echa KaMocha,– but I am fascinated by what immediately precedes this mention of love – hate.
“Lo Tisnah at achicha b’levavcha – Do not hate your brother in your heart.” Leviticus 19:17
What exactly does this mean?
Ramban (Nachmonides – a famous Medieval commentator) gives us some insight when he wrote– “for people who hate have a tendency to conceal their hatred in their heart: ‘An enemy dissembles with his speech, inwardly he harbors deceit’ Proverbs 26:24. Our text is not saying that it is all right to hate openly; it is prohibiting the more common thing.” (Here, the Ramban is commenting on what one may think – that it is ok to hate someone out in the open, but not in the heart, but he says all hatred is prohibited, but especially in the heart which is the most common form of hatred).
And it’s true – when we look back at this story that I told, do we think that the child’s feelings towards people of color began when he first uttered those words?
Sun Zsu famously said in his book, the Art of War: “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”
Our rabbis often talk about our two selves – the yetzer harah and the yetzer hatov, the good inclination, and the bad – they battle each other, and where does this battle begin? In our hearts, and it ends when the mouth is opened, because, as we know, words can never be taken back.
As Jews, we have become used to being hated throughout our history. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks confronts this fact, going through history. Finally, he writes: “Reviewing this history, it is clear that anti-Semitism is not a unitary phenomenon, a coherent belief or ideology. Jews have been hated because they were rich and because they were poor; because they were capitalists and because they were communists; because they believed in tradition and because they were rootless cosmopolitans; because they kept to themselves and because they penetrated everywhere. Anti-Semitism is not a belief but a virus.” He goes on to say, “Viruses are effective when they persuade the body’s immune system that they are part of the body itself. Viruses mutate so as to appear to host cells not as enemies but as friends.”
I think anti-Semitism has a root – hatred – and it continues to infect.
We thought that the world would see the truth after the Holocaust – but it still exists. We see a man trying to kill Jews in Kansas City, a man who said he hated Jews more than any other minority. In Ukraine, a synagogue was fire bombed, and notices, fake or not, were given to Jews to register with the central office reminding this population of the Shoah.
How do we counteract this hate? The Torah tells us immediately – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Loving others is not easy – it’s actually easier to hate, and sometimes, it might be more fun. Loving others means to love difference, and each unique person.
We are all unique – each human being. The Mishnah states, “When a human being makes many coins in the same mint, they all come out the same. God makes every person in the same image – His image- but they are all different.”
Hate loves when we can paint everyone with one brush – love demands that we look at each person as if they are God’s image.
Hate is an emotion, but Love demands action.
A modern Bible scholar, Abraham Malamat translates this famous phrase, V’ahavta L’Recha KaMocha not as love your neighbor as yourself to but TO your neighbor…he writes: "The Bible is not commanding us to feel something - love - but to do something - to be useful or beneficial to help your neighbor."
So how can we be useful to our neighbors?
We are the constant survivors of hatred– we must say Never Again – never again will we allow hate to go unabated, to infect the hearts of man – not just anti-Semitism, but all hate.
And we cannot allow ourselves to fall into the same traps of hate. Recently, there was a shocking story – five Ultra-Orthodox men in America brutally assaulted a gay-black man who was walking through their neighborhood. The main assailant was quoted as saying, “stay down, f----t, stay the f--- down,” while the other man cheered him on.
I wish Hillel was there to see this, I wish Rabbi Akiva was there to see this – but they weren’t, we are.
So we must stand in their place and say, Never Again.
We must march with Jews and non-Jews against hatred. That’s why telling the story of the Shoah is so important, because it reminds all humanity that violence and murder due to hatred can happen again, and we must counteract it with acts of love.
I hope you can march with me this Sunday to say Never Again, and to remember those who lost their lives to the virus of anti-Semitism and hatred.
We Jews play an essential role in the world – God demands that we should be holy, for the Lord our God is holy – but love and holiness take action –
Rabbi Sacks writes, “A world without room for Jews is one that has no room for difference, and a world that lacks space for difference lacks space for humanity itself.”
This Sunday, on the March of Remembrance (CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION), we not only march for ourselves, we march for all humanity, for the past, the present, and most importantly, the future.