Last year on Tisha B’Av, I talked with my kids about baseless hatred, “sin’at hinam.” The word “hinam” usually means “for free,” and my then 5-year-old son couldn’t stop giggling. “What, hatred for free? That’s silly! You don’t buy hatred in a store! When is it ever not for free? It doesn’t cost anything anyway!”
If only that were true, I thought, while explaining the semantics of the word “hinam.”
My son gave my explanation some thought.
“But Ima,” he eventually sighed, “‘baseless’ doesn’t make sense either. You never hate someone for no reason at all.”
“That’s true,” I conceded, “but if another kid broke your toy, or yelled at you, or refused to share his treats — would those be good enough reasons to hate him?”
My son shook his head.
“Of course not. When we hate someone, we think it’s for a reason. But if we really think our motives through, we realize that they don’t merit hatred. So even if we hate someone for a reason, it doesn’t justify our emotion, and our hatred is baseless.”
My son nodded, and I congratulated myself for a job well done.
* * *
A few months later, I realized that I was going about this baseless hatred business the wrong way. My epiphany occurred while I held my sobbing daughter in my arms, the playground spreading loud and bustling all around us. “Hush now, love,” I said, trying to speak over the happy shrieks of playing children. “There is no reason to be upset.”
I don’t remember what saddened my daughter that day. I don’t remember how long it took me to soothe her. But I do remember standing there, patting her back, and hearing my own words as if they fell off a stranger’s lips. And I remember thinking, in a surreal out-of-body moment of clarity, “What kind of an idiotic reassurance is that!?”
So what if she doesn’t have a good reason to be upset? She is upset, and analyzing the legitimacy of her motives won’t change her emotion.
And the same, I realized, is true regarding hatred. I’d thought that by explaining why hatred is baseless, I’d taught my son not to hate.
But hatred is an emotion, and emotions aren’t always rational. We may not have good reasons to hate someone. We may even understand, intellectually, that our hatred is baseless. But understanding and feeling are not the same action. If I want my kids to do away with baseless hatred, I need to give them more than an explanation of why hatred is wrong. I need to inspire them to love.
* * *
One day, I’ll tell my kids that hatred is essentially reduction, and negation. When we hate someone, we reduce them to the action/opinion/habit we dislike. Our perception of them narrows down to the way they wronged/offended/irritated us. We lose sight of everything else that makes them who they are, be it their likes and dislikes, their relationships, the crappy day they had, or the way they smile at strangers, or give money to charity, or try so very hard to improve.
We say we hate a person. But really we hate a small part of him or her, and negate the rest.
But this day is not today. My kids don’t need more cerebral mumbo-jumbo. They don’t need yet another lecture about the fine points of emotional discipline. They needs to develop the emotional habits that will make them less prone to hatred in the future, and more willing to truly internalize my theoretical explanation when the right day will come.
So this year on Tisha B’Av, I won’t talk about baseless hatred. I will engage in some hands-on baseless-love education instead. I will invite my kids to celebrate the beauty of my fellow human beings by drawing their attention to the complexities we can unearth in other people when we try.
“I love meeting new people,” I will say, “because every person is different and interesting, if you take the time to really talk.”
Then I will tell them about the friend who made aliyah from Russia, and, after a stretch of hard time, baked her way into a thriving confections business. I will tell them about the cab driver who works only at night so as to spend time with his kids every day, and the elderly neighbor who juggled three construction jobs in his youth so he could marry his sweetheart. I will describe the wild-haired girl who wanted to study philosophy because “it’s the intellectual equivalent of extreme sports,” and her staid friend who chose the same major to up his business skills, since “the famous philosophers clearly sold their ideas very well.”
I will invite my kids to notice the many quirks and sides of other people.
And hopefully, when one day someone really angers them, they will see that person as a whole — a whole whom it’s hard to truly hate.