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Sinat Chinnam and the Destruction of the Temple

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Bein Adam Le-chavero: Ethics of Interpersonal Conduct

By Rav Binyamin Zimmerman


Dedicated in memory of 
Joseph Y. Nadler, z”l, Yosef ben Yechezkel Tzvi


Shiur #16: Sinat Chinnam and the Destruction of the Temple



Baseless Hatred


One of the most pernicious forces in the Jewish ethical worldview is sinat chinnam, baseless hatred. As we saw in last week's lesson, the prohibition of “Do not hate your brother in your heart” has some exceptions. If there exist, at least in theory, circumstances under which one is allowed to hate another Jew, then the concept of sinat chinnam is more readily understandable.  Hating someone with cause is permissible; doing so baselessly is prohibited.  However, the Talmud does not only tell us that it is forbidden, but that it is seriously destructive. 


If hatred were always forbidden, under any and all circumstances, then it would be easier to curb the phenomenon of one Jew’s hatred for another.  However, because circumstances do in fact exist that allow one to hate another, the dividing line between permitted and forbidden hatred must be drawn.  When permissible, the “mitzva” of hate is unfortunately often much easier to fulfill properly than the mitzva to love another Jew.  Now, when it comes to the individuals whom we naturally would love, the mitzva is seemingly unnecessary.  It is when considering those individuals whom we might be tempted not to treat in the prescribed manner, for a whole host of reasons, that the mitzvot of love and hate bear most significance.


The Talmud (Yoma 9b) discusses the reasons for the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem.  It differentiates between the causes of the first destruction and those of the second:


Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed... But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they occupied themselves with Torah, mitzvot and acts of kindness? Because baseless hatred prevailed. This teaches you that baseless hatred is equal to the three sins of idolatry, illicit relations and murder.


The severity of sinat chinnam is clear: even a generation of charitable scholars can be punished for this sin, and it is considered as grave as the three cardinal sins combined.


The mention of sinat chinnam as the root cause of the Second Temple's destruction is repeated elsewhere, with additional components.


The Yerushalmi (Yoma 1:1) states that despite the fact that, during the Second Temple era, the people were avid in their Torah study and careful in their fulfillment of mitzvot, destruction came upon them because:


The people loved money but hated each other with baseless hatred.


The Midrash (Eikha Rabba 1:21) adds that during the Second Temple era, "People rejoiced over the downfall of others."


Defining the Term


In order to gain a greater understanding of this hatred, we must properly define it.  The term sinat chinnam is rather strange.  People don't usually hate others chinnam, for no apparent reason at all.  Usually, the reason to hate others is because they have mistreated one, are a bad influence, have different opinions, etc. Why would sinat chinnam have been so ubiquitous during Second Temple times if it was really baseless?


Evidently, the sinat chinnam which was so prevalent and widespread was not "baseless" in the usual sense of the term.  Everyone can find a good number of reasons to hate others; however, the Sages view this feeling as baseless if it is not founded on the basis of the permitted hatred discussed in the previous lesson.  In fact, the hatred allowed in certain cases is a constructive hatred, aimed at distancing bad influences; therefore, it is limited in its scope and level.  Even so, there are numerous opinions which understand that hatred, even for these elements of society, is either disallowed in our time or severely limited (see previous lesson).


If so, any hatred which doesn't carry with it the Torah's permission is viewed as sinat chinnam.  The Talmud, however, stresses the severity of this form of hatred. After all, despite the fact the generation of the destruction was accomplished in Torah study and even acts of kindness, the phenomenon of baseless hatred was sufficient to lead to its downfall. Therefore, sinat chinnam is akin to the three cardinal sins which led to the First Temple's destruction.


Even when the Torah permits hatred, it does not neglect the responsibility of loving a fellow Jew. 


Loving and Hating the Same Individual


Rabbeinu Bachya (Kad Ha-kemach, Sinat Chinnam) writes that there are two forms of love, both of which one should feel towards fellow Jews.


Love is either natural — like the love between brothers, that of a father for his child or that of a man for his wife — or it may be social.  For example, when two absolute strangers are together for a whole day, there develops between them a common feeling and determination in all matters.


On the basis of both these types of love, the people of Israel have been called "brothers and fellows." This expression teaches us that one should love his fellow man like a brother; moreover, socially, he should be on good terms with him like a friend.  It is thus written: "For the sake of my brothers and fellows, I will please speak of peace with you" (Tehillim 122:8).


Though in an ideal world all Jews would be considered both brothers and fellows, we saw in last lesson that evildoers may lose the status of "brothers" even while maintaining the status of "fellows."  The practical ramifications of this understanding is that while it is permitted to hate evildoers, one must still love them, as one must love all his fellows.


A number of commentators deal with this paradox. How can one simultaneously love and hate the same individual?  Some of the answers provided to this question provide insight into the whole purpose of necessary hatred.


Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in his celebrated work Tanya, deals with this question.  It is known that he purposely placed his exposition in Chapter 32, numerically equivalent to the Hebrew word lev (heart) due to the significance of these ideas.  He speaks about the tremendous love one must have for a fellow Jew.  He then asks: how is that one is obligated to hate an evildoer?


What about the statement in the Talmud that if you see your fellow sinning you must hate him and must also tell his teacher so that he may hate him as well? This speaks of your peer who learns Torah and performs all the mitzvot. He did something that he should have realized is wrong, and you rebuked him for it …Let us say, however, that this person is not your comrade in Torah and you are not close with him. In that case, Hillel the Elder instructs, "Be of the disciples of Aaron: love peace... love the creations and attract them to Torah." He is speaking of those who are far from God's Torah and from being observant Jews, which is why he calls them just "creations." He is saying that you must pull in these people with thick cords of love, and perhaps, with all this effort, perhaps you may attract them to Torah and to the service of God. Perhaps you will, perhaps you will not. Whatever the outcome, you have not lost the reward for showing love to a fellow Jew.


This love also applies to those who are close to you — the ones that you have rebuked and yet they have not repented of their sins. Yes, it is a mitzva to hate them, but it is also a mitzva to love them, and both should be in all earnestness: hatred due to the evil within them and love due to that aspect of good that is buried within them. This is the spark of godliness within them, which vitalizes their godly soul.  Aside from this, you need to inspire your heart towards compassion for this godly soul…


Essentially, the mandate is to hate the evil within the sinner but to love his or her intrinsically good essence. Rav A.Y. Kook similarly explains that the whole concept of hating the evil of a wicked individual is as an expression of love for the good.


Though our love for people must be all-inclusive, embracing the wicked as well, this in no way blunts our hatred for evil itself; on the contrary, it strengthens it.  For it is not because of the dimension of evil clinging to a person that we include him in our love, but because of the good in him, which our love tells us is to be found everywhere.  Since we isolate the dimension of the good to love him for it, our hatred for the evil becomes sharpened and absolute. (Middot Ha-Raaya, Ahava 8)


Rav Kook goes on (op. cit. 9) to explain that the hatred of the individual must be limited and directed:


It is proper to hate a corrupt person only for his defects, but insofar as he is endowed with a divine image, this is in order to love him.  We must also realize that the precious dimension of his worth is a more authentic expression of his nature than the lower characteristics that have developed in him through his circumstances.  It is for this reason that the Talmud (Pesachim 49b) limits the degree to which one may hate the evildoer…


If permitted hatred is an expression of loving the good inner character of the individual and not being fooled by his evil exterior, then we can begin to understand sinat chinnam. On the most basic level, sinat chinnam is so destructive because the hatred lacks all elements of positive purpose.  For this reason, there is also no reason to limit the hatred, and it can grow to extreme proportions.


Unfortunately, baseless hatred is not only historically significant as the basis for the Temple's destruction; it is still rampant. In fact, some sources even indicate that the lingering impact of the Second Temple's destruction is a result not only of past misdeeds, but of the persistence of attitudes of hatred.




The Shulchan Arukh writes (OC 549:2), based on the opinion of the Ramban, that even though the walls of Jerusalem were breeched on the ninth of Tammuz preceding the destruction of the First Temple, we commemorate yearly only the seventeenth of the month, the date when the walls were breached during the Second Temple era. 


Logic might have indicated otherwise, as the Talmud (Yoma 21b) states that the Second Temple paled in comparison to the First Temple, lacking five signature elements, including the Holy Ark. If so, why memorialize only the date related to the Second Temple?


The Shulchan Arukh explains because "the destruction of the Second Temple is more severe for us."  What does this mean?


One might explain that the distinction is primarily a matter of time.  The First Temple lay in ruins for seventy years only, while the destruction of the Second Temple is still in effect.  However, there is room to understand that there is not only a technical distinction, but a fundamental one as well. 


The Vavei Ha-ammudim (Ammud Ha-shalom 27) explains that the severity of the destruction of the Second Temple is due to its causes, which are still apparent.


The reason why the destruction of the Second Temple is more severe for us, despite the greater miracles in the First Temple, is that… its causes still apply to us.  Sinat chinnam persists amongst us, along with the evil eye and destructive speech, which are all still extant; therefore, the second destruction is more severe for us.  Now, if this flaw led to the Temple's destruction, it surely will prevent the arrival of the Messiah… This is the meaning of the saying (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1), “Any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt” due to our retaining the flawed character traits of that era, “it is considered as if they themselves destroyed the Temple.”


There is no greater testimony to our need to eradicate sinat chinnam than the fact that we have not merited to build a Third Temple.  For this reason, it is essential to understand the devastating nature of sinat chinnam and the causes for the Second Temple's destruction in order to realize our historical destiny.


The Severity of Sinat Chinnam


Rabbeinu Bachya (loc. cit.) writes that sinat chinnam is so severe because it is the root of all other interpersonal sins. Thus, it may drive one to utter evil.


Baseless hatred is a grave sickness, and it is the cause of all the sins mentioned in the Torah.  It causes the hater to utter falsehoods about his fellow, and one who habitually utters falsehoods cannot receive the Divine Presence, as it is said (Tehillim 101:7), "He that speaks falsehood shall not be established before My eyes."  In turn, prevarication will lead the hater to concoct a false charge against his fellow and to testify falsely against him … Due to hatred, one will feel depressed over his fellow's success and will rejoice over his failure…


Baseless hatred brings about the division of hearts and makes a person differ with his fellow without any regard to the latter's greater esteem.  Instead, all wish to be leaders, and thus their opinions and hearts are divided…


Rav Yehonatan Eybeschütz (Ya’arat Devash I, p. 198) identifies that one of the factors contributing to the severity of sinat chinnam is that people don't even realize that they are involved in such terrible sin.  He explains along these lines the continuation of the passage in Yoma (9b), which states:


Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Elazar both say: “The people of the First Temple, whose iniquity was revealed, had their end revealed; the latter ones, whose iniquity was not revealed, have their end still unrevealed.”


As Rav Yehonatan Eybeschütz reads it, the sin of hatred “was not revealed” in that even the perpetrators didn't realize the severity of their actions in a way that would inspire regret and repentance.  Generally, when one becomes rooted in sin, one often finds it hard to escape, finding reasons to justify his or her actions.  This is exponentially true when one is not even aware of the gravity of the sin.  Thus, the sinat chinnam of the Second Temple led to the annihilation of the people's character and consequently the Temple’s destruction.


To stem the tide of sinat chinnam, one must understand the phenomenon. As we have seen, hatred is not usually baseless per se, but the basis is often not justified.  If so, what might be examples of illegitimate causes of hatred?


Hatred Stemming from Jealousy


Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:17) explaining an additional element of the prohibition of hating a fellow Jew. He writes about this form of hatred:


There is an additional reason for the admonition “Lo tisna.”  The heart, left to its own natural inclinations, can develop hate for another; this is known as sinat chinnam. The admonition, in its all-embracing formulation, relates to this form of hatred as well (and not only to hatred towards an abuser).


Unprovoked hatred is common among unrefined people. If their "brother" competes with them in the struggle for existence — which is what life consists of, according to the modern worldview — then even if he competes fairly, he nevertheless races with them to the same finish line, and by his perseverance and skill he threatens to overtake them or forces them to exert additional effort.  In their perception, this is sufficient reason to hate him, for he is an impediment to their success, and they hope for his elimination and complete ruin.  Sinat chinnam, let us remember, is the sin that lead to the Second Temple's destruction.


Again, there is nothing as effective in removing hate from the heart as the idea implicit in the word achikha.  Every man is a brother in God's house; in our Father's house, there is no place for hate arising out of jealousy.



The Religious Element of Interpersonal Relations


Why does the Talmud stress that the people in the time of the Second Temple were learned and kind? On the simplest level, the intention is to point out that despite their other great qualities, they were held accountable for their baseless hatred.  However, in truth, the point might be a little different.  The Talmud may be indicating that it is not despite their learning that the people were held accountable for their sinat chinnam, but specifically because of their learning. Those who become scholars and understand the Torah’s message of love for one's fellow Jew, are supposed to express this love in all their actions.  Failing to do so reflects a misunderstanding of the Torah and sometimes even a corruption of it.  After all, the Torah was given when the Jewish people were unified: “They united themselves here with one heart” (Mekhilta, Shemot 19:2).


The Maharal (Netivot Olam, Ahavat Reia) indicates that loving other people is connected to loving God.


Indeed, this matter of loving people is also the love of God, for a person who loves someone loves all of the things which the beloved does.  Thus, when one loves God, it is impossible not to love His creations, and if a person hates mankind, it is impossible to feel love for God, Who created them.


One who truly loves the creator loves his creations.  Further, our legacy from Avraham Avinu includes love even for those who have strayed from the path completely. Rabbeinu Bachya explains this:


One who develops this loathsome characteristic proves that he is not a descendant of Avraham, for all of Avraham's offspring follow in his ways, as it is written (Bereishit 18:19), "For I have known him to the end that he may command his children and his household after him…”


A true Torah scholar is supposed to realize this, as Rav Kook writes in his commentary to Avot (6:1):


The greater a Torah scholar is in his learning, and the more he deserves the designation of a true Torah scholar, the more he is obligated to be filled with a love for the whole world.  (Rav Kook Avot 6:1)


Thus, the Second Temple era epitomizes religious failure: the people who were involved in Torah failed to inculcate its true message.


Discord and Murder


A number of other commentators note that numerous sources indicate that during the Second Temple period, there was great bloodshed.  Despite rampant murder during the years of the Second Temple, the Talmud only mentions baseless hatred as the cause for the Second Temple's destruction, listing murder only as a cause for the First Temple's destruction.  If there was murder as well, then why mention baseless hatred as the cause?


When dealing with this question, some of the commentators see a causal connection: when baseless hatred is the starting point, ruthless murder is the result.


Previously (Year 1, Lesson 19), we discussed the attribute of yashrut, moral rectitude. The Netziv notes that the failure of the people of the Second Temple was their lack of yashrut.  In his introduction to Bereishit, he explains why the first book of the Torah, dealing with the Patriarchs, is called sefer ha-yashar, the book of the right:


The matter is explained by the verse in the Song of Ha’azinu (Devarim 32:4): “The Rock! Perfect is His work … righteous and right is He.” The specific praise of God as yashar is used to explain the righteousness of God’s judgment in destroying the Second Temple because of “a crooked and perverted generation” (ibid. v. 5). We may explain that during the Second Temple, there were tzaddikim and chasidim, as well as those who toiled in the words of Torah; however, they were not yesharim in their dealings with others. Due to the baseless hatred in their hearts towards each other, they suspected that those who disagreed with them on religious matters were Sadducees or heretics. This brought them to bloodshed under false pretenses and many other evils until the Temple was destroyed. This is the justification for the destruction: for God is yashar and God could not tolerate tzaddikim like these. Rather, [God prefers] people who act in a way that is yashar even in worldly matters, not those who act crookedly even for the sake of Heaven; this causes the destruction of creation and the annihilation of the world’s population.


And this was the praise of the Patriarchs, that besides their being tzaddikim, chasidim and lovers of God in the most perfect way, they were also yesharim; that is, they conducted themselves towards others, even towards despicable idol worshippers, with love; they cared about providing for their benefit, as that keeps the world in existence. Thus, we see that our patriarch Avraham prayed for the city of Sedom, even though he hated them and their king with the utmost enmity due to their evil ways, as is clear from his statement to the king of Sedom; still, he sought their survival…


This yashrut allows one to truly be righteous, for when one cares about all of God’s creations, about all of mankind, one treats them accordingly. The Patriarchs serve as the model. They cared even about their enemies! How much more so must they have cherished their neighbors and fellows; thus, one must desire what is good for others and follow in the Patriarchs’ path.


The failure of the Second Temple period was this lack of yashrut, which led to hate and even bloodshed.  Though there was murder, it is not counted as the reason for the Temple's destruction because it was merely an outgrowth of a hatred based on an inability to interact with others, a fundamental lack of yashrut.


A similar idea is explained in the Vilna Gaon's work Even Sheleima (Emuna Ve-hashgacha): in order to prevent hatred, one must be able to disagree with another about the substance of the issue without making it personal.  The Vavei Ha-ammudim is correct in noting the continued expressions of sinat chinnam in modern times; all too often, we are prone to refer to others condescendingly due to their opinions.


Even when feeling the need to disagree, how one does so is essential. Sometimes a justified religious cause for disagreement might evoke all-encompassing hatred.  For this reason, as we noted earlier in this lesson and the previous one, the Torah seeks to ensure that one has constant love for his or her fellow Jew; whatever hate is necessary, it must be used only purposefully, in a limited and directed manner.


Keeping Healthy and Open Communication


The first step in obliterating the epidemic of baseless hatred is ascertaining why one has strong negative feelings toward another; the next step, if one is unable to erase them, is to confront the other with these qualms.  Doing so ensures that one makes the other individual aware of these feelings; simultaneously, one deals with the hatred in a way that will prevent its growing too extreme.


Rabbeinu Bachya continues that unity is essential for the Jewish people’s growth and success; therefore, baseless hatred can destroy a Temple and nearly destroy a people.


How is one to overcome the urge to hate and to learn how to disagree without making it personal?  In the next two lessons, we will examine how to avoid unproductive disputes and move from sinat chinnam to its polar opposite, ahavat chinnam, unconditional love.

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