Senseless Hatred

» Posted by on Jul 31, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments



On Tisha B’Av we mourn the destruction of the Temple. What does it mean to mourn the destruction of the temple in our days? What does it mean to affect the repair that might allow the rebuilding of that which was lost?

The Talmud provides a whole list of reasons for the destruction of the temples but most famously it teaches

Why was the first temple destroyed? Because of the three things that took place curing its time: Idolatry, sexual transgression and murder…. But why was the second Temple destroyed, during whose time they were busy with Torah, mitzvot and good deeds? Because there was senseless hatred. This teaches you that senseless hatred is as weighty as the three sins of idolatry, sexual transgression and murder (Yoma 9b).

This is a shocking statement. The three sins mentioned idolatry, sexual transgression and murder are precisely the three sins concerning which one is commanded to die rather than transgress (as opposed to the other mitzvot which in general one is supposed to transgress in order to preserve one’s life). Somehow senseless hatred is the equivalent of these three most gravest of sins. Not only that, but apparently this hatred can exist and, as the Talmud teaches in a series of stories, be expressed, even when on the surface people seem to be leading virtuous lives.

One way of understanding this striking statement is to understand that hatred is at the very root of these other transgressions. The ways in which we act that harm others and ourselves, are born precisely from the hatred that crouches within. And that hatred itself is grounded in subtler forms of opposition, rejection, or denial. That is, hatred is only the most extreme expression or feeling of the more basic quality of aversion, of our rejection of what is true at this moment, of our rejection of that person or thing. In this way, all hatred is senseless hatred. There may be sensible opposition to something, discerning wisdom which tells us something is harmful and should be stopped or opposed. But the emotional reactivity of hatred, the demonizing and desire to cause harm to the other or ourselves, is always without sense, always born of some habitual response within ourselves. It is only when we allow that response to take us over, when we unconsciously fall into the aversion or hatred itself, that harmful words and acts come forth.   

Yet when we are able to observe ourselves directly with love and equanimity, we see the hatred that each one of us has inside ourselves and can allow that hatred to arise and pass without getting caught in it. We can see the roots of hatred as they arise, the small aversions and pushings away, and soften into them, not giving them purchase on our hearts, minds and souls. Yet to do so we must actually see the hatred. If we pretend it is not there then hatred catches us unawares and all too late we notice we are lost in its grip, have acted unwisely, or have simply demonized some person or group in such a way that we have cast them out of our heart.

I want to therefore ask each one of us to do a very simple practice of introspection this Tisha B’Av, taught to me by two colleagues Chaya Gilboa and Simcha Levi.

First, simply inquire inside and ask yourself, “whom do I hate?” or “where does hatred arise for me?” or “What triggers my hatred?” Simply investigate where and why you experience hatred in your life. Is it in personal conflict or political conflict, toward yourself or towards others, is it connected to fear or disdain? What is the experience of the emotion as it arises and with what other emotions is it connected. Do revenge fantasies or other mental manifestations arise? Try to actually observe what happens within you during the day and take some time to simply free-write whatever arises as you ask these questions.

Second, ask yourself how this hatred expresses itself in our lives. Is it expressed directly? Is it repressed and so comes out in other ways?  Is it felt in feelings toward people of anger or the desire to do harm, in impatience, in indifference (a form of repression or protection), or in feelings of betrayal and the desire for revenge?

Finally, how do you want to work with this hatred to heal it and transform it so that it is no longer a negative force in our lives but an opportunity to see where we are triggered and challenged and to develop a discerning and passionate wisdom that allows us to act for justice and healing without demonization, contempt or the desire to harm the other? How do you want to enable yourself to fully be with your hatred without falling into it, without becoming it and without repressing it? How can you get intimate enough with your hatred so that you can see it, love it and so start to heal it? How can we learn to see whatever truth might be present and bring that out in a wise way into the world?

This, I think is our work on Tisha B’Av. What we mourn is actually the continuing presence of the forces of destruction within us, the continuity of hatred. What we practice, is the cultivation of the mindfulness, love and compassion that will allow us to uproot the roots of our aggression and so make possible the deep healing which is the hope of Tisha B’Av, the return to ourselves which is promised, in the tradition of its recitation, in the closing line of the book of Lamentations that we read on Tisha B’Av which reads “Return us to Yourself YHVH, and we will return. Renew our days as days of old” (Lam. 5:21). We ask to be helped in this process of return to who we truly are, to return to our divine nature, and in doing so, to be renewed in a primordial way, to be freed from all the accumulations of distrust, fear and hatred that we have acquired since birth and so be returned to our primordial love and freedom.


Dr. Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels is the founder of Or HaLev: A Center for Jewish Spirituality and Meditation and has been studying and teaching meditation and Jewish spirituality for over fifteen years. He teaches Jewish thought, mysticism, spiritual practices and meditation at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Haifa University and Yeshivat Hadar and in a variety of settings around the world. He strives to integrate his study with his practice, and to help teach and live Judaism as a spiritual discipline.


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