Monday, November 02, 2009

Hating Others for No Reason

I have had occasion recently to think about Sinas Chinam. Sinas Chinam is usually translated as baseless hatred – or hatred without any reason. Our sages tell us that Sinas Chinam destroyed the second Beis HaMikdash.

That makes Sinas Chianm quite a serious issue. We know that the first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of the transgression of adultery one of the three great cardinal sins. Apparently each of thsese transgressions warranted the destruction of our holiest structure. The first exile lasted 70 years. The second time the destruction and accompanying exile has lasted almost 2000 years. One might surmise from that that Sinas Chinam is even worse than adultery,

Sinas Chinam is obviously seen by our sages as a severe transgression. It think it is therefore important to define it properly. Or at least to define what it is not. The following are some of my thoughts.

Sinas Chinam cannot be translated as baseless hatred. There is no such thing hating someone for no reason. There's always a reason. The question is whether the reason is legitimate or not.

That - it seems to me - can only be answered subjectively. One person may think his reasons are valid and while another would see them as baseless.

There is a video (in Yiddish with Hebrew subtitles) of a Rav Tzvi Kahane respectfully asking on behalf of the Yeshiva world the Lubavitcher Rebbe why the Rebbe - and his Chasidim - do not sleep in the Sukkah on Sukkos.

Now there are many of us who do not sleep in a Sukka and there are Heterim – Halachic exceptions - allowing it. But it is preferable to sleep in a Sukka if one can. For Lubavitch however, this is not a matter of finding a Heter. They purposely do not sleep in a Sukkah on Sukkos.

The Rebbe immediately got very upset at the question and apparently at Rav Kahana. He accused people who ask questions like this of Sinas Chinam. In the course of his response he never once mentioned the reasons often given for it. Lubavitchers do not sleep in a Sukkah because of the divine sparks – Nitzozos - emitted by it. Those sparks are so holy that they are painful to a normal human being trying to sleep there. This is what more than one Lubavitcher Chasid has told me.

But the Rebbe did not mention this at all. He kept on saying that it was all about Sinas Chinam – and that it was not only Lubavitch that did not sleep in a Sukka. There were many other Chasidim and great Chasidic Rebbes - over their long history who did not do so either.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe really looked upset. But despite the Rebbe’s apparent anger with the question, Rav Kahane persisted in asking his question as respectfully as he could.

Did this questionreally represent Sinas Chinam? The Lubavitcher Rebbe thought it was. But I'm not convinced. I think this fellow really wanted to know an answer.

The bottom line it would seem is that Sinas Chinam can really only be defined subjectively.

I would personally define it as follows.

It more of an attitude. It is a hatred based on factual information about the subject of that hatred that is blown way out of proportion and also generalized unfairly to a group to the point of irrationality.

Sinas Chinam is therefore not baseless hatred but irrational hatred.

I would go a step further and say what is often seen as Sinas Chinam is really not hatred at all for an individual but for what he does or how he acts. It is having a problem with others for not measuring up to certain basic ideals. But ideals are often subjective. One person’s ideals will sometimes conflict with another’s ideals. The result is may be hatred but is it baseless? I don’t think it is. It is just a function of different perspectives based on different indoctrinations. The hatred that results is a function of that kind of misunderstanding.

Finally - anger at behavior might not be an actual hatred of the individual or group at all. It may just be strong criticism without any real hatred with a goal of correcting it - or at least letting them know that their views and actions - which they feel are acceptable to themselves - are not in fact acceptable to others.

Updated: 11:45 AM CST