“Groundless Hatred” Yom Kippur 5775

The Amidah during the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur contains a number of additions. All of these additions are in some way connected with the fact that Hashem is the Ultimate King and He will soon be deciding on how our lives will look this year. One of these additions appears near the end of the Amidah and it asks Hashem “Uch’tov l’chayyim tovim kol b’nei b’ritecha” – “Inscribe all the members of Your Covenant for good and long lives”. In the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah on Rosh HaShanah, another paragraph is added immediately prior to “Uch’tov l’chayyim”: “Our Father, our King, remember Your compassion and suppress Your wrath, and eradicate pestilence, sword, famine, captivity, destruction, iniquity, plague and evil occurrence; every disease, every mishap, every strife, every kind of punishment, every evil decree and groundless hatred, from us and from every member of Your Covenant.” This list contains pretty much everything we don’t want to experience in the coming year. But hold on – something in the list does not belong there. The last item – sin’at chinam – “groundless hatred” – is qualitatively different than all the other items in the list[1]. The Talmud in Tractate Berachot [33b] teaches that Hashem is responsible for everything in our world other than man’s behaviour. We are blessed with freedom of choice and with this freedom comes accountability for our actions. And so while Hashem can eradicate pestilence, disease, and the Islamic State, He is in no way responsible for “groundless hatred”. Whether or not I choose to hate my neighbour is my decision alone. How can we ask Hashem to influence our actions? Isn’t this changing the rules of the game?

I noticed this discrepancy in shul this year on the second day of Rosh HaShanah[2], and frankly, I had no idea how to address it. So I asked some of the people who sit near me in shul what they thought. R’ Tzachi didn’t even pause to think before he gave me the perfect answer. “What causes people to hate each other?” he asked. The answer to him was obvious: When times get bad, societal pressure increases. Social mores break down, tempers flare, and violence increases. One example of this action and reaction was in the days before the destruction of the second Beit HaMikdash. The Romans had laid siege on Jerusalem. There was no food or water and people were dying in droves. Within the city walls, Jews seemed more concerned with killing each other than defending themselves against the Romans. Zealots fought against Sadducees who fought against Pharisees who fought against Zealots. The infighting reached a crescendo when the Zealots burnt a stockpile of dry food that could have fed the city for many years, essentially sealing everyone’s fate. Indeed, the Talmud in Tractate Yoma [9b] teaches that the second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of “groundless hatred”.

There is another reason that R’ Tzachi’s explanation is so compelling. The Rambam in the Laws of Repentance[3] [9:1] asks why the rewards the Torah promises for keeping mitzvot and the punishments it threatens for transgressing mitzvot are all corporeal: money / rain / Ferrari vs. Poverty / drought / Yugo. Wouldn’t it be more effective to promise the pleasures of heaven or the fires of hell? The Rambam answers that it is much easier to learn Torah and to keep mitzvot when all is quiet on the western front. When we are busy running from our enemies or dying of famine, it’s much harder to find time to go to a Daf Yomi shiur. Consequently, if we make the right choices we get a double-reward: We are blessed with a climate that makes it easy to lead a Jewish life, which in turn earns us additional reward in the World-to-Come. If we make the wrong choices we lose out both in this world and in the next. Therefore, if Hashem fends off famine, captivity, and destruction, we get the double benefit of living together in perfect harmony.

And yet. This past summer was a nightmare. Three boys were kidnapped on their way home from school. For two weeks thousands of soldiers scoured the Hebron area for any sign of them. We lived in complete uncertainty as to their whereabouts and whether or not they were even alive. When their bullet-riddled bodies were found buried in a makeshift grave the entire country went into mourning. And then for six weeks thousands of rockets and mortars were fired into Israel from Gaza. Air raid sirens blared incessantly in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa. Most of the towns near the Gazan border turned into ghost-towns. And then we discovered the tunnels which the Hamas had been digging for the past five years, tunnels that gave them unfettered access into Israel. So we sent in the Army. Sixty-six soldiers were killed uprooting the terrorist infra-structure and more than four hundred were injured. One would have expected that under such immense pressure the kettle that is Israel would boil over. One would have expected bickering, infighting, and fights breaking out on every street-corner. And yet nothing of the sort happened. In fact, Israelis exhibited a fierce display of unity. We are all Racheli Fraenkel[4]. We are all Nachal Oz[5]. Does this behavior trump R’ Tzachi’s theory?

Maybe not. The Talmud in Tractate Yoma [35b] sounds a stern warning: No matter what your finances look like, you will be held accountable for your deeds. The Talmud tells of a poor person and a wealthy person who approach the Heavenly Court. They are each asked the same question: “Why did you not study Torah when you were alive?” Lest the poor person give the excuse that he was too busy trying to stay alive to learn Torah, he is asked “Were you poorer than the great sage Hillel? Hillel was so destitute that he didn’t have enough money to get inside the Beit Midrash, and so he climbed up to the roof to listen through a window. The snow fell on him but his concentration made him oblivious to the cold. Eventually he passed out and nearly froze to death.” Lest the wealthy person give the excuse that he was too busy taking care of all of his assets to learn Torah, he is asked “Were you wealthier than the great sage Rabbi Elazar? He owned a vast amount of property. And yet none of the people who worked on his properties recognized him because he would spend all of his waking hours in the Beit Midrash learning Torah”. No person has an excuse. No matter what the environment, no matter what the situation, we are expected to learn Torah and to perform mitzvot. Of course some people have it easier than others. But those who get the short end of the stick, those who are born on the wrong side of town or those who for whatever reason did not attend Hebrew Day School, are not absolved. On the contrary: they must work harder.

Now we are ready to return to the High Holiday Amidah. When we ask Hashem to “eradicate all sources of adversity” we are asking Him to make life easier for us so that we can learn Torah and keep the mitzvot. It seems as if it is He Who will determine how many shiurim we attend this year or whether or not we’ll be scrupulous with halacha. But when we make our final request – to eradicate groundless hatred – we are forced to admit that the ball was always in our hands. There are two ways in which a society can face adversity: it can fuse together or it can disintegrate. Hashem can make things easier or harder for us, but ultimately the choice will always remain ours. During the time of the second Beit HaMikdash, Am Yisrael was not up to the task. Two thousand years later, let us pray that we are.

Shabbat Shalom, Gmar Chatima Tova, and well over the fast.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

[1] Actually, there is another item in the list that, like “groundless hatred”, is qualitatively different than the others. This is “iniquity” – avon – slid in between “destruction” and “plague”. The explanation we give in this shiur for “groundless hatred” is equally pertinent to “iniquity”.

[2] I have no idea why it did not bother me on the first day of Rosh HaShanah, or, for that matter, for the previous fifty years of my life.

[3] Rav J.B. Soloveichik, writing in “Al Ha’Teshuva”, notes that the Rambam’s Laws of Repentance has ten chapters. Rav Soloveichik suggests that this division mirrors the ten days of repentance between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and he recommends learning one chapter each day.

[4] The mother of Naftali Fraenkel, HY”D.

[5] A Kibbutz located two km from Gaza that took the brunt of the mortars fired from Gaza.