As I sit here on Yom HaAtzmaut, I’m filled with anguish over my own inability to overcome שנאת חינם, sinat chinam, baseless hatred of fellow Jews. There are prominent Jews whose life missions appear to be to attack and weaken the State of Israel, placing thousands, if not more, of my people at deadly risk. I despise what they are doing in governments and news media as well as in NGOs and lobbying groups and it’s difficult for me to not let my hatred for their actions spill over into hating them as well.
Sinat chinam is a more complex issue than first appears. Overcoming it does not, by any means, equate with liking, approving or even tolerating every thought, policy and action I see a Jew advocate. I am free to hate, denounce, oppose and combat these ideas, just as any fellow Jew is free to do the same to mine. Nonetheless, I need to keep in mind that my rival’s neshama, Jewish soul, is equivalent with mine, is rooted to the same place of holiness and requires, just as does my own, to be unconditionally loved.
A cliché for this issue is “to love the sinner but not the sin”, and while that is fine as far as it goes, I don’t find it at all helpful in refining my own feelings. It’s a nice idea, but so what?
One of our most powerful, and most over-simplified, tools is תשובה, tshuva, which is usually poorly defined as “repentance” or “return”, as in bringing ourselves “back in line”. However, it’s a much deeper concept and perhaps exploring it will help illuminate a way to retain love and respect for people who stray so far as to endanger us all.
An important insight from our mystical tradition, Kabbalah, informs us that on a deep level, regardless of what we think we’re up to, what we’re really doing is searching for those נצוצות קדשות, netzutzot kadashot, holy sparks (shattered fragments of imperfect reality) that are keyed exclusively to our unique souls, integrating and then, with our Torah, mitzvot and ma’asim tovim (good deeds) actions, returning (tshuva) them to their holy source. (This, by the way, is the Torah definition of תיקון עולם, tikkun olam, repairing the universe, of which social action and protecting the physical environment are at most metaphorically included).
At this point in history, we can assume that most of the “easy-to-access” sparks have long been located and rectified. Many of those that remain are, almost by definition, in distant and often unsavory places. Nonetheless, they’re part of the required assignment we, as Jews, have as our portion of partnering with God to complete Creation. Also, remember that in the spiritual sense location is not necessarily geographical, but can also be conceptual.
This is pure speculation, but it seems possible to me that those fellow Jews who find themselves advocating for our enemies, unbeknownst to themselves and others, are in a more real sense immersing themselves in this hateful socio-politico environment because that’s where their sparks are. So while it appears on the surface that their efforts are hateful, and in the short term they do appear to expose our people and our nation to mortal danger, in an ultimately more profound way they, like us, are bringing our world closer to the completion we all desire.
Although I’m a smart person and try to act with deliberateness to make things better, I realize that the narrow bandwidth that I’m aware of is an infinitesimal slice of the greater reality of my life. By extending the same awareness to others, especially those whose words and deeds I despise and combat, perhaps I can imagine that even without their awareness they are retrieving and restoring their unique “puzzle pieces” and, thus, escape my own descent into sinat chinam.
I’m not saying it’s easy and I’m not even positive that I’m right, but it seems worth every effort to embrace the entire Jewish people in love.