Unwarranted love means to love someone that you have every right to hate. Jewish law has an extensive code around offering forgiveness and outlines specific cases in which we are not required to forgive. The ethic of unwarranted love summons us not only to forgive such people but also to love them.
The Torah has no law that requires us to offer unwarranted love to those who wrong us and refuse to ask forgiveness. The Torah does not require that we offer forgiveness to those who seek our forgiveness while continuing to wrong us. Nevertheless, though it is not required, our ethics encourage it.
The reason for unwarranted love takes us back to the destruction of the Temple. The Talmud famously tells us that the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 069 was a punishment for the sin of unwarranted hatred. This was a terribly divisive period for our people. The nation was splintered into multiple factions with political and ideological differences. Each was convinced that its approach was correct, and each fought the others with ferocity.
Even the Roman invasion failed to unite the feuding factions. They fought each other with one hand while defending against Rome with the other. By the nature of things, such a splintered defense had no hope of holding up against the superior might of the Roman army. But the Talmud tells us that the Jewish defeat was more than failed tactics. It was a divine act of punishment for their unwarranted hatred.
The Torah forbids holding a grudge, but if you resent someone for causing you harm, your forbidden grudge, is at least understandable. However, if someone merely disagrees with you, there is no reason to hate them. If someone’s disposition is different from yours, you have no reason to hate them. To hate someone just because they are different is unwarranted. Such hatred is only caused by ego.
Ego based hatred means that I want to be the only person in the room, I want to have the only valid opinion at the meeting, and I don’t want to share the limelight with anyone else. If anyone else receives attention, I consider it a violation of my rights. I can’t admit this openly so instead I engage in passive-aggressive tactics to demean and discredit that person. But none of what I say is true. The truth is that I hate this person only because he or she got the attention that I wanted for myself.
Such was the hatred between Jews when the second Temple was destroyed. This prompted Jewish theologians and thinkers to suggest that if the Temple was destroyed because of unwarranted hatred, it can be restored by unwarranted love.
Maimonides teaches that when one finds oneself eccentrically inclined toward one pole, the solution is to force oneself to the extreme opposite pole for a while until one can level off and find equilibrium. This is the basis for the teaching of unwarranted love. If we want to correct unwarranted hatred, the best way to do that is to practice unwarranted love.
Unwarranted love means to not only forgive but also to love the people who don’t deserve it. Instead of hating the people who don’t deserve our hate, we love the people who don’t deserve our love. This means that if someone insults us or hurts us, and we have every right to take offense and distance ourselves, we go beyond the letter of the law and respond with love.
This is an incredibly tall order. It goes against our grain. It is in our nature to open our mouths and stand up for ourselves. It is in our nature push back when we get pushed around. The hardest thing in the world is to respond to hatred with love.
Keep Your Mouth Shut
My dear friend and colleague Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz once observed that the dogs and the frogs both served the Jewish people in Egypt. During the second plague, the frogs were everywhere; they pervaded the homes, the kitchens, and even the food. To get into the food, they leaped into the flaming ovens to embed themselves in the bread. The dogs were silent during the Exodus so that the Jews could depart in peace.
On the face of it, the frogs made a greater sacrifice than the dogs. They gave their lives whereas the dogs held their tongues. Yet, G-d rewarded the dogs over the frogs. When the Torah forbids the consumption of unkosher meat, it suggests that we feed our unkosher meat to the dogs. Our sages explained that this was in reward for refusing to bark at the Jews during the Exodus. Why were the dogs rewarded rather than the frogs?
Rabbi Yitzi answered the question by offering a brilliant insight into human nature. It is much easier to throw yourself into a fire than to keep your mouth shut.
We have all experienced being criticized and wanting to give as good as we received. It could have been a friend who laced into us in public, a spouse who pushed our buttons, or a child who talked back to us. We wanted to put them in their place, and we felt justified in doing so. We knew that this would only exacerbate the fire, but it didn’t stop us. We opened our mouths and threw ourselves into the flames rather than kept our mouths shut and deescalate. Why? Because it is so terribly difficult to keep our mouth shut.
Yet, this is precisely what the ethic of unwarranted love summons us to do. Precisely when we feel that we are perfectly justified in responding, we are called upon to forgive and, moreover, to respond with love. This is as difficult as it sounds. But the more difficult it is, the more rewarding it will be.
When G-d looks down and sees us holding our tongue, arresting our displeasure, and responding with love to those who flatly don’t deserve it, He will respond in kind. He will hold His tongue, withdraw His displeasure with us, and provide us with the redemption and the rebuilding of our Temple even if we don’t deserve it.
Someone once wrote that in life we do two things: we make compromises (of integrity) and we encounter opportunities. The less often we do the former, the more we can make of the latter.
When we are confronted with a situation that warrants hatred and we respond with love, we turn a challenge into an opportunity and a liability into an asset.