October 5, 2022 /
In the Book of Leviticus, there is a commandment that states, “You shall not hate another in your heart” and in the Talmud, there is a discussion about it.1 The sages very clearly wrestle with this commandment and wonder what the commandment truly means. They ask what “hate in your heart means?” Does it mean that you should not strike someone in anger, slap them…that you should not rise up in hatred and curse them? Yes, they believe you shouldn’t do those things borne out of hatred. They also debate whether you can do those things not borne out of hatred. But there is something else wrestle with. They take a hard look at the piece “in your heart piece.” “You shall not hate another in your heart.” For them, it means that we must live a life devoid of having any hatred of any kind in our hearts at all. Not necessarily that we should love our enemies, but just that we shouldn’t hate them.
Friends, I ask you now, “what has happened in the last six months?” As if you might not remember, but we do. We recall the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh which took the life of 11 fearful congregants; the massacre of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand; the horrific Easter attacks in Sri Lanka which robbed 250 Christians of their lives; and then not a week or so later, a shooting at another Synagogue in San Diego that took the life of one very brave woman whose family will never be the same. Yes, Pittsburgh was only six months ago.
“You shall not have hate in your heart.” How? How do we to do this? Sure, to the people who have lost so much, who have had their souls ripped apart, who will never feel whole again, we have lots of love for them. We send love and care, concern, and resources. Muslim, Christian, Jew, those who have been a victim of hate: our hearts and love go out to you. Our hearts go out to you in overwhelming abundance.
But these events, these events and so many others, the AME Church shooting in Charleston, the Sikh Temple shooting in Wisconsin or even Charlottesville with voices of white supremacy chanting “Jews will not replace us” and a day of protests that led to the death of an innocent woman, how do we react to these tragedies? How do we respond to these tragedies without having hate in our hearts for those who have perpetrated such horror?
There is no easy answer or no easy way of doing it, but we must not let hate in. The incidents are isolated, but they aren’t at the same time. Each of those assailants came to those holy places because hatred had infected their hearts. I do not believe that we are born to hate; hate must be taught. And right now, with such a rise of religiously and racially motivated violence and white supremacy and nationalism on the rise, we know that it is being taught and condoned in a way that it has never been before. We cannot stand idly by. We can’t stand idly by, but at the same time, we cannot fall into the same trappings of hate. When we let hatred into our hearts, we infect ourselves with the same virus that leads to extremism and supremacy. When we see the spread of white supremacist ideology, and when we witness its teachings being condoned or winked at by people in power, we must rise up and declare that these lesson of hatred have no home within our country, within our society, within our world.
As Jews, this is a message that we must rise up and deliver. We have a sacred obligation to do so. We are a congregation that heeds the words of our Scripture, Tzedek, tzedek tirdof, Justice; justice shall you pursue. These three Hebrew words are not just a beautiful sentiment; they are a religious imperative. We are a congregation that knows the words of our scripture that tell us – no, they declare to us: “lo tochal l’hitalem – you shall not remain indifferent.”2 Justice shall you pursue, and you shall not remain indifferent. The combination of these two commandments is the key to the solution of how we fix the world.
To live in a world of justice – tzedek, is to live in a world that is righteous tzadik; a world in which we live as tzadikim. Those who live as tzedikim are those who are rodeph shalom, pursuers of peace. “lo tochal l’hitalem – you shall not remain indifferent.” We can’t sit by an watch; we must pursue peace. To create a world of shalom we must speak out for all people. The plights of all individuals should spur us to seek justice.
We ought to be students of Rabbi Hillel who said in Prikei Avot, “Al tiphrosh min hatzibur.” Don’t separate yourself off from the community.” Hate speech and xenophobia are on the rise. When we separate ourselves off, we allow it to occur.
So what should we do? We need to deepen our relationships with those of different faiths in our community. “Al tiphrosh min hatzibur.” We need to build and create new relationships with those whom we might have called the “other” and include them in our daily life. “Al tiphrosh min hatzibur” We must call out our leaders and hold them accountable when their words and actions encourage supremacy. “Lo tochal l’hitalem – you shall not remain indifferent” We must build the world we wish to live in. Let our community be indicative of what we want to see around us. We should work to fight anti-Semitism, and we should work just as hard to fight anti-Muslim bigotry. This is not just a cause that we must take up because it affects Jews, no, we must declare the injustices around us for Blacks, Muslims, Christians and all those who suffer because of hatred, and we must do it without resorting to hate. We may not be indifferent to the plight of others, and we may not respond with hate.
We need to do this work, and we need to do it without hate. I’ll be honest; I am not perfect. Sometimes, like everyone else here, I feel hatred and anger. When I see our leaders come across the glowing embers of hate and choose to fan those embers and give them kindling so they can use those fires of rage for their gain, I am filled frustration, anger, and hate. And then I pause in disgust. Disgust for what I feel and for what I am becoming – for when I respond with hate I am becoming that which I found deplorable.
The commandments of not having hate in our hearts and not being indifferent are our safeguard for protecting ourselves and our world. Not being indifferent is what keeps us engaged and prevents us from giving up and giving in. It’s what prevents us from saying, “What can I do to stop this onslaught, this is just hopeless.” To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good people should look on and do nothing.” Yes, not a quote from a Jewish writer, but it’s sentiment sure is.
May each of us find the courage it takes to protect this world and may each of us find the strength not to be enveloped and ruled by that which scares us and that which we are trying to protect others against.
1 BT. Ar16b
2 Deut 22:3