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Senseless Love

A story is told of a Jew on a deserted island who built two synagogues. After he was rescued, he was asked, “Why did you need to build two synagogues?” He responded, “This is the one I pray in, and this is the one I never step foot in.”

A tendency towards strife and vengefulness is an unfortunate aspect of human nature, even when the target of our spite exists only in imagination. The desire for revenge can motivate a person with extraordinary energy and cause them to perform bizarre actions, only to vent their anger.

For this reason, the Torah warns us not only against taking revenge, but even against holding a grudge. We must entirely uproot the natural feelings of resentment that we feel towards someone who mistreated us. These negative feelings will eventually lead to our acting out in revenge, and therefore we must distance ourselves from these emotions.

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Despite the Torah's strong caution against revenge, in this week's Torah portion we find a surprising directive to the Jewish people -- to go out and avenge themselves against Midian. The Midianites enticed the Jews to sin with their daughters, and therefore the Jews were urged to show them no mercy and to wipe them out. How does this directive fit with the Torah's general approach, to distance oneself from any form of revenge?

Revenge is wrong when it arises from our own emotions. However, if someone has had a judgment decreed upon him because of his own behavior, then carrying out the sentence is not done in heat, and is not associated with negative emotions. The evil that the people of Midian did made them deserving of death, unrelated to any vengeful feelings on the part of the Jews. Moses simply ordered the Jews to carry out the Divine decree.

The sin of the Midianites was considered especially severe because they enticed the Jews to sin, without any motivation or justification. Other nations acted against the Jews because they felt threatened by them. However, the Jews were nowhere near the land of the Midianites and were not threatening to take over their land. The Midianites simply looked for a pretext to cause trouble for the Jews. They deliberately fomented strife and senseless hatred. For this reason, G-d reacted with especial severity.

For the Jews, waging this war was a chore, one that went against their deepest desires. G-d had revealed that after this war was concluded, Moses would pass away. The Jews, who naturally did not want to part from their beloved leader, sought to delay the inevitable and did not want to go to war. This demonstrates that the war was not a result of the vengefulness of the Jewish people, but rather a directive imposed upon them from above.

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Vengeance and hatred belong to the same class of emotions. Our Temple was destroyed, say our sages, because of the sin of sinat chinam--senseless hatred.

We are now in the midst of a three-week mourning period in which we commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem. In this time it is especially important to adopt traits that are the very opposite of the ones that caused the destruction: to forgive; to overlook a slight or a fault; to act lovingly towards everyone. Without reason.

When the Redemption comes we will experience true love towards our fellows, for their inner essence will be revealed and we will see how they are truly good. To bring Moshiach, we must try to live with that spirit even now--to act towards every person with ahavat chinam, senseless love.

 

 


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