This week, we are beginning the time period called, “The Nine Days.” These are the days that precipitate the historical destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, and many subsequent tragedies that befell the Jewish people. We ask “Why did God choose to destroy the Beit Hamikdash, the beacon of divinity and peace in the world?” The classic answer is that the Jews were embroiled in Sinat Chinam- “baseless hatred.” We had stooped so low, we hated each other so much, that we no longer merited to have the Shchinah (the Divine Spirit) among us. Our precious holy temple was ripped away from us, burnt to the ground.
Even just today, the streets of Jerusalem are still trembling from the loss of our most holy space.
When we break down what the real meaning of “baseless hatred,”, one way to understand it is that it means that we hated others for no real reason. We developed pre-conceived notions about other people based on our assumptions. We decided we didn’t like people, didn’t approve of them, despised them, based on very little information. We usurped the divine task of being a “Dayan,” a judge, and in our social interactions we examined others and found them flawed. Only God can know the entirety of a person, only He can plumb the depths of a soul and know them.
But here we are, thousands of years out from our loss of the Beit Hamikdash and we have yet to merit our ultimate redemption. That moment that will take our deepest mourning and revert it to the highest joy. Our communities are still rampant with baseless hatred- everyone thinking that they are holier than their neighbors, taking shallow understandings of entire communities, issues and people, as permission to despise them.
The stakes are so high. While we pray for the return of our Holy Temple, we need to gain some deeper perspective. We need to humble ourselves to realize that we don’t know what makes people tick. We don’t know what happened to people during their lives that made them who they are.
Lately I’ve been reminded time and time again, through messages from people I thought I knew. They have revealed so many complicated layers to their lives, that I never would have guessed. It reminded me that even when we think we know who people are, and why they do what they do, we know a fraction of what we need to in order to understand them. If we started every interaction with empathy and open interest, we might fall into the trap of baseless hatred far less often.
Perhaps we can fight to counteract the rampant Sinat Chinam in our communities by beginning to acknowledging that all Jews share the same destiny. It’s up to us to work together to achieve our ultimate redemption and the ushering of the messianic era of peace.