by Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer, Assistant Rabbi,
Temple De Hirsch Sinai
, Seattle, WA
“We must begin with our in-laws,” he announced to a lecture hall packed with a broad cross-section of the Seattle, Washington Jewish community. Jews in felt
and long dresses sat beside those who were bare-headed and wearing tank tops in the summer heat at this community event. Dr. Rene Levy, Professor Emeritus of Pharmaceutics and Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington, offered us this prescription from his new book,
Baseless Hatred; What It Is and What You Can Do About It. Sinat Chinam
, baseless hatred, destroyed the Temple (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b), it is destroying our familial relationships, and it will prevent the Jewish world from fulfilling its mission to the world.
True hatred, according to Professor Levy, involves both selection and discrimination: we do not hate a powerful storm, even if we experience sadness or anger at our loss; nor do we hate a child we do not perceive as a rational, responsible agent for his/her actions. This ability to discern whom to hate makes it quite similar to another human expression: love. Both love and hate require intimacy, passion, and commitment, and are only possible when we actually care about the recipient of our attentions. Only by creating a false disassociation with the target of our hatred, belying their power over us, can we hate. The more honest, yet painful, response is resolution through dialogue.
Beginning with our ancestor and name-sake Judah, who embodied
– that all Israel is responsible for one another – in his
and protection of Benjamin in Egypt (see Genesis 44), Professor Levy says that the Jewish community holds the remedy to the devastating problem of baseless hatred. True adherence to
demands that we never proscribe other Jews from our lives and work to resolve our differences. We must begin closest to home, with our in-laws, and expand outward until the Jewish community can truly serve as or
, a prophetic light unto the nations.
With this weighty sense-of-purpose in mind, we turn to the final paragraph of this week’s Torah portion. “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt: how he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear…you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).
Parashat Ki Teitzei
contains 72 positive and negative precepts, surpassing all others in Maimonides’ enumeration of the 613
. Commandments dealing with social, legal, ethical, and ritual concerns – a blueprint by which Jews can live a moral, holy life – are found side-by-side with this troubling commandment to annihilate another nation. How might we struggle with this mitzvah in 2013?
Our first option is to follow a model set forth by
elsewhere in this
(21:18-21). The law regarding the stubborn and rebellious son – that he is to be stoned to death – also runs afoul of modern…and even ancient sensibilities. This is a mitzvah found in the Torah, yet Rabbi Shimon holds that such a case never occurred and will never occur (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 71). By limiting the situations in which this law would apply, including gender (a son and not a daughter), age (a three-month window from the onset of puberty), type of crime (only the gluttonous consumption of meat and wine together, taken from a private domain and eaten in public), and description of the accusers (mother and father must be identical in height, appearance, and vocal timbre), the rabbis effectively created a situation where such judgment was rendered impossible. So, too, it is with the commandment to destroy Amalek. In his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides softens the rationale for this mitzvah by explaining that the effort is only to remove Amalakite-like behavior from the world, not the people themselves (3:41). This is good, because the early rabbis suggested that the Amalakites were so intermingled within other groups – including the Jews! – that they were indistinguishable. Instead of ignoring these difficult pieces of biblical legislation, the rabbis effectively minimized them to the point of irrelevancy.
The second option is to allow ourselves to be guided by the events of Jewish history. It was
that led to the destruction of the Second Temple in the rabbinic mind, and it was
that destroyed 6,000,000 of our co-religionists during the Holocaust. Instead of interpreting this commandment as a call for baseless hatred in our day, we might uphold the Torah by doing exactly as it says. May we begin by blotting out our memory of the Amalek, lest it continue to cause us pain and serve as the source for our now-baseless hatred. And may we affirm that we will “never forget” as we renew our dedication to
, to our responsibility for one another, and commit ourselves “to a different ‘never again’ formula, one to “never again” subject other Jews to hatred.
Ken yehi ratzon
, may this be in accord with God’s will.