I feel that as I enter my mid-forties the spiritual choreography of the calendar has become pretty familiar. As we entered the three weeks I felt quite comfortable with the requisite steps. And not just the ritual aspects of the time — even the more ephemeral hashkafic aspects of the time were familiar moves.
So many essays and divrei Torah on sinas chinam, ahavas chinam, of trying to be metakein. Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, Yavneh, so familiar. And yet. . .
How many times have we heard the Yerushalmi quoted, “any generation that hasn’t had the Beit Hamikdash rebuilt in its’ day is counted as if it was destroyed in their day?” 100 times? I had the great zechus to hear it again, but this time I heard it with the following obvious follow up. We are destroying the Beis Hamikdash right now. Right now, mamash.
The Nefesh HaChayim discusses how the essence of the Beis Hamikdash is the inner part of a person’s heart. It’s there we connect with the divine. The physical manifestation of a building is a siman, it’s what we call in learning a heicha timtza – a situation that brings about the practice of particular laws. But the real “location” of communing with Eternity is inside the yid. And we are destroying that with sinas chinam.
So I set out to try and fix that. Where is my sinas chinam? Well, in the great rabbinic style, let me ask you a question. To whom does the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael apply? In strict halachic terms, the mitzvah might only apply to those who are “kamocha” like you — that is observant, Orthodox Jews. But are we ok with that? I suspect that all of us look at our colleagues and neighbors, our acquaintances and co-commuters, our old college roommates and our extended family members who are either less halachicly observant than we are, or totally estranged from halachic observance and we find love in those relationships. I’m blessed with the opportunity to work with and teach people who are not Orthodox, and I know I go into those relationships with an open heart. I meet someone new and I’m ready to learn from them and teach them, welcome them into my house and become a part of their life. I bet we all are. I know in previous generations that wasn’t the case, but today? After a generation (or two?) of kiruv (formal and informal) and Chabad, and Shabbos Across America, ahavas Yisrael to those who observe “less” than us? Check. No problem.
Aha. But what about someone who does more? I recently had my holy, 17-year-old niece, born and raised in Yerushalyim visit with us here in Baltimore. While driving around from here to there she shared she could not ever see herself living in America because no one is really frum here. When I pressed her for some specifics she said, “you can’t really be frum because everyone has the iPhone.” (For the record, I have an Android phone, but I get that’s not her point.) Also, if it’s not a day when I’m teaching, I’m probably wearing a polo shirt.
I think when I meet certain types of Jews, Jews who dress a certain way, and believe certain things, I don’t enter those relationships with the same openness and the same readiness to love. I start from a place of cynicism and mistrust. I start off thinking I know what they think about me, and so, I’m already thinking negativity about them. And we haven’t even said a word yet. That’s where my sinas chinam is. Obviously, ahavas Yisrael applies also to Jews who are frummer than we are. Jews who do tzniyus better, who are makpid on yoshon and pas Yisrael. Jews who don’t hold of eruvin, and wear hats on top of their sheitels. Jews who have more kids than us and don’t have iPhone (and obviously who don’t wear polo shirts). I have to suspend my belief that I know what they think before we’ve even met. I need to enter those relationships with the same place of love I come from when I meet my students on their first day of high school.
As the annual dance though the calendar brings us back to our starting position, I find I’m not ready to leave Av. I haven’t gotten where I need to be yet, but I’ve started the work.