Tisha B’Av: An Annual Pause to Stop Baseless Hatred

Is there such a thing as sinat hinam, baseless hatred?

Usually when we hate something or someone, we believe we are justified–we have cause.  Somebody slighted us, or even worse overtly harmed us.  We disagree with their politics.  We think they are disingenuous. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who hated someone or something and could declare that it was a baseless hatred.

So how do we understand our communal narrative that the Temples were destroyed because of sinat hinam?  Every year we spend three weeks prior to Tisha B’Av preparing for “the big day.” On Tisha B’Av Jewish tradition teaches that we mourn the destruction of the Temples and several other Jewish catastrophes, attributing them all to sinat hinam. We lament. We fast. We don’t wear leather.  We do whatever we can to create a solemn atmosphere.  How wonderful to be part of a community that annually pauses to mourn destruction and attribute it to our inability to get along.

And yet.  And yet, as we march up to this day, the global Jewish community seems enmeshed in baseless hatred. The American political scene is also rife with hatred- whether its gun control, reproductive rights, school closings, health care, immigration or the sequester, we seem to be smoldering just under the surface, demonizing whomever holds beliefs different from our own, and creating a more divided country.

This year I invite you to imbue Tisha B’Av with different meaning.  Ask yourself these questions:

1.  Who or what do I hate, for which I believe I have reason, but perhaps the reason is questionable?

2. What is one thing I can do to address this hatred and stop it?

3.  What do I want to be able to say about the way I addressed this hatred when I stand before God on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

In the Talmud (Tractate Pesachim 18a), the rabbis discuss the issue of vessels that are susceptible to becoming impure.  Rabbi Akiva uses this discussion to derive a lesson about impurity. He teaches that the difference between being a vessel that can become impure, as opposed to a vessel that makes other things impure is the difference of one letter, a letter yud, a split second. As humans, we often live on the border between being susceptible to impurity and being people who cause others to become impure.  In one instant we can become the cause of communal impurity, communal hatred, perhaps even baseless communal hatred.

This Tisha B’Av, whether you observe traditionally or not, please take a few moments to consider how you contribute to or reduce the “baseless” hatred in the world – and how you can actively take hatred you believe has a basis and commit yourself to reducing its intensity and impact.

*With appreciation to Rabbi Aaron Alexander and The Daily Daf Differently of JCast Network.

Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay is the Director of Alumni and Community Engagement at AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps. This article originally appeared on the Avodah blog and is part of a regular series contributed by AVODAH.

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