July 22, 2024
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Winning the War Against Hatred

In previous articles we discussed the idea that contradictory phenomenon, including emotions and actions, cannot co-exist. For example, if one’s feelings toward another are primarily loving and appreciative, it is difficult to experience or express emotions that fall in the realm of sarcasm, criticism or hatred for that same individual or group. Unfortunately, the converse is true as well. This notion, which is the undergirding theoretical foundation of all current orientations in relational theory, as well as positive psychology, first appeared in our Torah. One example, in fact, is found in Parshat Ki Teitzei. In an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, he calls attention to a much-overlooked mitzvat lo ta’ase: “Do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother. Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land” (Devarim 23:8). Rabbi Sacks raises the question shared by many commentators regarding the paradoxical connotations inherent in this prohibition. He wonders how Hashem could expect the Jews to refrain from hating those who “embittered their lives, subjected them to a ruthless regime of hard labor, … forced them to eat the bread of affliction … and embarked on a program of attempted genocide…” (Shemot 1:22). Moreover, not only are we mandated not to hate the Mitzri’im, but we are asked to remember and recite the story of Yetziyat Mitzrayim every year in order to pass on this mesorah for perpetuity.

The classic responses to these questions argue that in order to “preserve our freedom, we must never forget what it would feel like to lose it.” Thus viewed, remembering that we once walked in the shoes of those enslaved would allow us to muster up feelings of empathy toward those who suffer at the hands of others or as a result of adversity. Yet, as reflected in the commentary on this pasuk, I find it difficult to understand that Hashem expects this of us. There has to be a deeper meaning in this message, beyond coming to terms with the egregious acts resulting from anti-Semitism throughout our history. In responding to this dilemma, Rabbi Sacks begins by quoting the words of Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that…” These insightful words are consistent with both the psychological insight that fighting negativity with negativity is a lose-lose battle, as well as the message reflected in the Torah’s prohibition against carrying hatred in our hearts, even against the most detestable enemies in our history.

Rabbi Sacks explains the manner in which holding onto one’s hatred plays out, and why it is so important to eradicate these negative feelings: “If they [Bnei Yisrael] continued to hate their erstwhile enemies, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites. Mentally, they would still be there, slaves to the past. They would still be in chains, not of metal but of the mind—and chains of the mind are the most constricting of all.” This explanation brought me back to a statement I heard during my recent trip to Poland, by Norman, a courageous survivor of Majdanek, one of the most deadly camps. After telling us of the horror and losses he experienced, he stated: “I have no hatred for the Nazis; maybe sometimes when I think about my experience, I am angry; but I never hate. If I carry hate in my heart, Hitler would have accomplished what he set out to do.” Indeed, Norman understood what the Torah taught via this mitzvah and other examples. Norman knew that one “cannot create a free society on the basis of hate.” This explanation of the mitzvah also reminded me of my beloved high school teacher Dr. Livia Bitton, also a survivor, who is well into her 80s and continues to spread the message of fighting against defining oneself by the circumstances of adversity.

Viewed through this lens, the message Hashem was communicating via the prohibition against hatred, even in the case of our enemies, is that it is one thing to “live with the past…,” but quite another to “live in the past.” I believe that Rabbi Sacks hit the target by making this distinction. Of course, Moshe as the messenger of God was not asking us to accept or forget the acts of horror meted out to the Jews in Egypt. How else would we defend ourselves against the potential harm that continues until this day? Yet, remembering should lead to fortifying ourselves against the repetition of history, rather than trading physical captivity for emotional bondage; moreover, we are expected to sustain our freedom by seeking to discover what Hashem is asking of us, rather than perpetuating and being enslaved by the hatred with no good end in sight. I believe that Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik hit a home run in responding to these questions in his seminal work “Kol Dodi Dofek.” He clearly related the message that since 1948, with the rebirth of Israel, Hashem has been knocking on our doors with repeated messages; He continues to let us know that He has opened the door and is waiting for us to come home. He admits to how hard it is and appears to regret that he, like most of us, has not answered the call; still, he urges us to try. At the very least, I believe that it is our love and trust in Hashem, His Torah and the precious gift of Eretz Yisrael, rather than hatred, that will be the vehicle through which we realize the dream Hashem has in mind for us.

The good news is that we are well into Elul and approaching the Yomim Noraim, and this is the perfect time to move from inspiration to action by connecting with God. Let us apply the wisdom of the Torah and our role models as we commit to avoiding the trap of negative feelings toward others. We are all God’s children; and so, when we carry hatred, grudges or other negative feelings in our hearts and souls, Hashem is heartbroken. I know this because my own father, who lost all but two of his eight siblings, and was separated all of his life from the two who survived, was brought to tears whenever my sisters and I fought, and I’m sure Hashem suffers as well when hatred, rather than love, defines our feelings and actions toward one another.

Years ago, I attended a shiur in Passaic, where I learned a simple but very effective strategy for sustaining a positive attitude. As we prepare for the upcoming holidays, let us focus on what we have, b’chasdei Hashem, rather than what we don’t have. I’m sure we would all agree that there is not one thing in our possession that we would want to return. Acknowledging this simple but powerful truth makes it easy to remember that we owe Hashem continued debts of gratitude, and that the most precious gift we can give Him is to let go of all those negative feelings we have for one another—His children, our brothers and sisters. I truly believe that viewing life through the lens of acheinu kol am Yisrael is the key to our geulah. Indeed, many of the gates have already been opened for us, and the only gate we have full control over, the only barrier left, is the one we continue to erect. If we truly seek peace among us and in this world, we must never forget that hate multiplies hate, anger multiplies anger, and bitterness multiplies bitterness. The only antidotes to these destructive forces are love and forgiveness, and when that is not possible, perhaps sorrow for those who strayed too far to ever find their way back.

By Renee Nussbaum, PhD, PsyA

 Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst with training in Imago and EFT. She can be reached at [email protected].

 

 

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