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By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky | Series: | Level:

Jewish “Conventional Wisdom” over the last couple of generations contrasts Sinat Chinam (hating for no reason) with Ahavat Chinam, loving Jews “for no reason.” This idea traces its source to some very great people, and I in no way wish to question it.

However, there is another perspective to examine.

In many other areas of Halachic discussions, the opposite of something which is “chinam” for naught, is “schar” which means “for something.” The opposite of a shomer chinam, a person who watches for free, is a shomer sachar, one who watches for payment. The opposite of a Jewish slave being released without payment, “yatza chinam” is to be released for money, through tangible compensation.

Since the implication of the Gemara in Yoma (9b) is that the negative connotation that the Rabbis attached to the phrase “sinat chinam” has the emphasis on the “chinam” aspect of it, the opposite of “sinat chinam”, hatred for no reason, would legitimately be “sinat sachar”, doing it for a good reason. While it is not very “nice” to talk about hating someone – when we examine the concept in the Torah and in the Rambam, the problem is not the existence of the “sina” but how and/or when it is done.

The Torah (Shemot 23:5) talks about seeing “chamor sona’acha”, the donkey of one you hate. (The Gemara (Pesachim 113b) asks how the situation can arise. The answer is instructive.) The Torah prohibits “Lo tisnah et achicha bilvavecha”, Don’t hate your “brother” in your heart. The Rambam (Ch. 6 Hilchot Dai’ot Hal. 5 & 6) deduces from the language of the verse that the prohibition is to keep it bottled up. If someone wronged you, you are supposed to inform him of it, rebuke him for it, and give him a chance to apologize and/or right the wrong. But the natural reaction doesn’t seem to be prohibited in and of itself. In Halacha 3, the commandment of loving your fellow Jew translates into very definable actions (as opposed to the Western/Christian concept, which can remain very abstract and undefined). It is very possible to be required to behave in the way described in Halacha 3, while having a feeling of hatred because of justifiable reasons.

The Gemara (Kiddushin 30b) teaches us that even a father and a son, or a Rebbi and his student can become enemies in their arugments over Torah (says Rashi: because neither is willing to accept the opinion of the other). Yes, the conclusion is that they are supposed to end up friends (ohavim), but that doesn’t change the fact that during the argument they are enemies. And we need to understand – realistically – how can enemies who were fighting, arguing, refusing to accept the other one’s position, end up as “ohavim”, loving each other? Sounds a little too romantic!

The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (Ch. 5) of “machloket l’shaim shamayim” contrasts the arguments of Hillel and Shammai, vs. the one of Korach. Reb Yerucham, the Mashgiach of Mir, is astounded that the only problem with the terrible things Korach did was that they lacked “lesheim shamayim” (action for the sake of heaven)! That is a concept we apply in trying to gauge the quality of Mitzvot! It seems, says Reb Yerucham, that Korach’s arguments were legitimate, and had they been done with the same motivation and intention as Hillel and Shammai’s, they would have been considered very positive things. We don’t shy away from Machloket and arguments. But

The intention has to be to reach truth, clarity, closeness to G-d, all through legitimate means. And if I enter into an argument purely with that intention, either I will end up accepting my opponents arguments, or I will become even clearer that mine are correct. It is my opponent who helped me reach one of those two conclusions, clarifying my position, leading me to a more defined understanding and bringing me closer to the truth.

This is a cause for me to love him and appreciate him, even when I don’t end up agreeing with him. That is the conclusion of the Gemara, that the “oyvim” end up “ohavim.”

I think that a prerequisite to reach this level is the recognition, in advance, that there are a number of different valid approaches in Torah. For if there can only be one way, then if I become more convinced I am right, my opponent must be even more wrong, and this delegitimizes him. But if I respect his position, and my conflict with him is motivated by my trying to clarify my own position, then I can greatly appreciate the help he gives me in in doing that. The better an opponent, the stronger the conflict, the more I will love him.

A perfect example of this is the Gemara in Bava Metzia (84a) where Rebbi Yochanan (RY) was in depression over the death of Reish Lakish (RL). Rebbi Elazar ben Pdath (REbP) tried to take RL’s place as Rebbi Yochanan’s cheveruta. Every time RY said something, REbP said “I can validate what you have said.” RY complained bitterly over this, bemoaning the loss of RL who was able to bring 24 attacks on each thing RY said, which required 24 responses, leading him to greater clarity of the issues. This was irreplaceable, and without it RY went insane. How many of us welcome attacks on our positions and opinions?

We shouldn’t shy away from true confrontation and disagreements in pursuit of truth and growth. This can be termed “sinat sachar.” It degenerates into “sinat chinam” when we begin to hate the person we disagree with, rather than the ideas or behaviour. The proof the Gemara has that the machlokes of Hillel and Shammai was “lashaim shamayim” was the close personal relationship they were able to maintain, despite the vehement Halachic and ideological disagreements they had.

Eradicating disagreements is not necessary (or desirable) in bringing the redemption. Different people have different perspectives that need to be presented to the world, and without them, the world will be a less perfect place. The Geulah will be brought when we are able to eradicate the “chinam” aspect, the personal aspect, of what can be legitimate ideological differences. May it happen quickly.

The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel for Women.