Rabbi Etan Moshe Berman-
On Erev Yom Tov I was cursed by a drunk Satmar chasid.
My children wanted some plastic ties to reconnect the nets to our soccer goals, so we headed to the local dollar store. When we arrived, there was a chasid in full Chol Hamoed garb, speaking in what I thought was an unusual fashion to a woman parked in her car. In my mind I was hoping he wouldn’t bother me inside the store.
Sure enough, as my kinderlach and I waited in the rather slow-moving line, the fellow approached me and, in Yiddish, asked for money. Noting the fragrant stench of alcohol dissipating from his person, I was hesitant to acquiesce.
“Sorry, I don’t speak Yiddish,” was my response. Without hesitation, he began to express himself in quite perfect English.
Turns out that he had gone to a prestigious university (with a heter from “the Zaide,” he was quick to point out) and received a rather impressive advanced degree. He couldn’t get over how a person looking as I do (beard and Brisker-style payos) could not know Yiddish. He concluded that I must be “a Telzer.” I told him that the truth was my father grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, with an American upbringing, and I grew up “out of town” (as they say in New York). I was therefore never really exposed to Yiddish.
He wanted to know more about my story and what I do. My attempts to convince him that he didn’t want to know were to no avail. With his curiosity piqued and peaked, I told him I am a rebbi in YU.
He was quite taken aback.
I then pointed out to him, “You don’t want my money anymore, do you?” At first he vacillated, but before long his definitive answer was “No.” Based on this new information, I was an accursed Zionist, and he proceeded to curse me.
I have nothing against him; I wasn’t even upset. The truth is, my children and I spent the next 10 minutes or so trying to make sure this fellow wouldn’t get hurt or get himself into trouble. While I was contacting others to determine how to best help him, he got in the back seat of a car and was driven off. I hope he is OK.
Chazal say that the second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed due to sinas chinam—baseless hatred. The problem is that I am not sure we know what that is. Very few people ever hate someone else for no reason. We have a reason; usually we have a lot of reasons. Does that absolve us of the sin of sinas chinam?
Rav Asher Weiss has a teshuva in which he addresses if it is a mitzvah or an allowance to hate a rasha. However, by the time he puts down his pen, there are almost no more reshaim! So, who is left whom one is allowed to hate?
The Torah commands us not to hate, not even in our hearts. When someone does something we consider wrong we are commanded to communicate our feelings in a manner that will hopefully improve the situation, and simultaneously not make things worse.
At the core, the Jewish people possess one soul. An ish echad (one man), with the potential to have a lev echad (one heart), as opposed to other nations of the world that can be like an ish echad only if they have a lev echad (see the language of Rashi to Shemos 19:2 compared to his language in Shemos 14:10, and the explanation of Rav Hutner in Pachad Yitzchak Pesach 41).
Our soul is like a light on top of a black sheet suspended above the floor. Every time a Jew is born, Hashem uses His scissors to cut a new shape in the black sheet, allowing a unique light to shine into the world. Each Jew is a unique shape, but all Jews possess one essential neshama.
The problem is how to feel this way and not experience hate when one thinks that the other person is destroying Yiddishkeit, or making a terrible chilul Hashem.
The construction of multi-family dwellings and disregard for laws and taxes, true or not, these are issues that serve as sources, and reasons, for hate. For the Satmar, the Zionist is preventing Moshiach from coming. For the Zionist, the Satmar is doing the same. How can one not hate the other?
There are two important things to consider to help us alleviate or perhaps avoid hate altogether.
Hate does not arise from disagreement; hate arises from our judgment of the person with whom we disagree. Avoiding hate involves avoiding convicting others in our minds of being malicious. One need not agree with another person, but one must understand that his position has a rationale. He may be confused, misguided or misled, but he is not intentionally evil; he is not a rasha.
The second point is eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chaim (Eruvin 13b)—these and these are the words of the living Lord. Paradoxical approaches can be simultaneously true if they derive from an honest attempt to understand the will of Hashem, utilizing the proper methodology. The Satmar chasid and the Zionist will not agree on how to bring Moshiach, but they can agree that both approaches are legitimate. Both will wonder how Moshiach could possibly come due to the sabotage of the other. The answer is one will take his approach and the other will take the opposite, and we will leave the rest up to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chaim.
Sefiras Ha’Omer is a time when historically we have experienced terrible tragedies from both without and within. It is a time when we say Av Harachamim even in Nisan, because of the Crusades, and it is a time when we mourn the death of the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva. It therefore comes as no surprise that some of the greatest opportunities for sinas chinam coincide with Sefiras Ha’Omer.
This time of year we are given the opportunity to express mutual respect for one another and avoid the hate that is the source of so much of our pain.
Just like the original Sefiras Ha’Omer culminated in the unity of the Jewish people at the foot of Har Sinai to receive the Torah, so too may our self reflection during this time result in a newfound achdus in preparation for Shavuos. May this be the last year that we observe Sefiras Ha’Omer as a mere zeicher l’Mikdash.
Rabbi Etan Moshe Berman is rav of Kehillas Zichron Dovid of Pomona as well as a rebbi in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, the rabbinical seminary of Yeshiva University.