In this week’s Parsha of Ki Tavo we read how the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us (26:6). This is reminiscent of an earlier passage in the Torah where we were reminded that the Egyptians embittered our lives, forced our people into hard labor and even tried to throw every baby boy into the Nile River. It was the first recorded genocidal attempt to exterminate the Jewish people (Exodus 1:22) We are told repeatedly to observe various ceremonies, practice the Passover Seder and recite the Shema daily reminding us of the cruelty of the Egyptians and the beneficence of God in rescuing us and bringing us to the land of milk and honey. Yet, in last week’s parsha we are specifically commanded not to hate the Egyptians. The verse states, “Do not hate an Egyptian for you were a stranger in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:8). How do we reconcile the mitzvah of remembering the cruelty of the Egyptians to our ancestors with the mitzvah of not hating them? How is it possible to do both mitzvahs, seemingly contradictory in nature?
Perhaps the Torah is trying to teach us a fundamental lesson in human nature. R’ Jonathan Sacks, commenting on this topic, opines that Moshe was trying to teach the Jewish people that to be free one has to let go of their hatred. If the Jewish people held onto their hatred, humiliation and sense of vengeance they would still be slaves to their past. Moshe would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites.
At the same time, we must never forget our history and how we arrived at our present situation in history. Throughout the Torah, as in this week’s parsha, we are commanded to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. Basically, we are told to live with the past but not live in the past. We learn from the past and, therefore, act with compassion and respect for others. When the Torah writes guidelines for owning a slave, for example, we are to treat the slave with dignity and release them after seven years of servitude.
This lesson can also be applied to our personal lives in the present as well. Almost everyone can recount incidents where they may have been treated with disrespect or humiliated. Many of us have been wronged by another person or by life’s circumstances. Life is not always fair. We can choose to be bitter, bear a grudge and hold hatred in our hearts. Or, we can learn the lesson of the Torah, that we should live with the past but not in the past. In order to be free, we need to let go of our own hatred and resentments. It was once said that actively hating someone is similar to swallowing poison ourselves and hoping that the other person dies. It will not work on the other person. It just destroys us from within.
Lashon hara (evil speech) is similarly destructive in that it involves spreading rumors about a person, a group or an institution that inflame our passions and is ultimately not productive. There may be times when we seek to vent our negative feelings by “bad mouthing” another person or someone in the news. In our politically charged atmosphere it can be referred to as spreading fake news. The net effect is most destructive on ourselves. It often simply ends up “stirring the pot” of emotions in our minds and just upsetting us further. We must continually remind ourselves not to swallow the poison.
May we get through the difficult times in life. May we have Hashem’s help in dealing with the times in life when others are unfair or even act in a mean spirited way toward us. While we should always remember that others may have acted cruelly toward us like the Egyptians, we have to also recall that it is in our best interests to forgive and not carry the hatred within. Never forget, but don’t swallow the poison.
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is vice president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected]