Friday, 1 August 2008

Sinat Chinum

While most may wish to translate sinat chinum as "baseless hatred", I prefer to translate it as "purposeless hatred". It is learning how we are to deal with what we may refer to as our more negative emotions that must be our goal during the Three Weeks.

To understand why I translate sinat chinum in this manner and to further understand the lessons that are to learned through this term, I invite you to read the following articles from the Nishma website:
Defining Sinat Chinum (Part One)
Defining Sinat Chinum (Part Two)

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Anonymous said...

unfortunately the problem of sinat balev looms over every situation of unresolved conflict so sinat chinum abides ubiquitously and therefore overwhelmingly. This makes the practice of the tochacha perhaps the central accomplishment of our epoch.
I divide the the tochacha into three categories:tochachat musar (a confronting of instruction or demand) and tochachat ge'arah (a confronting of rebuke or complaint) tochachat nochach (a confronting upfront or in body). The tochachat musar is the most verbal and perhaps most intricately assertive--a demand: don't leave the toilet seat up, stop squinting etc. This type of tochacha demands a change in others behavior and therefore can set up a very clear line of confrontation which can seem to be authoritarian. Musar is a synonym for torah, and must be expressed with a most precise intonation and emphasis. In order to get by someone , the musar would be "move" not "could you" or "would you move" (nonsense questions) or excuse me (a passive aggressive ploy) . The musar challenge would be to say the word "move' (perhaps ever so lightly stuttering the m and saying the whole word lightly) avoids the possible imperiousness of the demand.
The simplest and most basic verbal form of tochacha is the ge'arah, an onomonopeac word (literally a "grrr") often translated as rebuke but may be more simply understood as a complaint (though this translation is also not adequate). The Tanakh claims many instances of ge'arah i.e. Jacob challenging Joseph about telling dreams, Moses scolding soldiers for not killing the midiani women, Samuel chastising Saul over taking Amalek herds. Unfortuantely all these Ge'arot and even those in the Talmud (i.e. rabbi yehoshuah's cahlenge to the walls of the Yavneh academy in th Aknai dispute) are phrased as questions, really trick questions. When Moshe asks his returning officers "why have you kept all the women alive..." Moshe is not really looking for an answer. Even if I could rationalize that Moses might be allowing for some explanation, the fact remains that the question is not a rebuke or gearah in and of itself. The gearah is missing here. While the walls of Yavneh responded to Rabbi Yehoshuah's question, no direct opposition or straightforward negativity was expressed. That the walls stopped collapsing by merely an implied gearah shows just how powerful was Rabbi Yehoshuah's presence. The missing gearah was finally realized by rabbi Akiva (I'm paraphrasing) "The problem of our time is that we don't even know to make a gearah"(Sifre Dvarim). Fortunately, the editors of the Bavli have not only defined the problem of sinat chinum but also included the amoraic discovery of the ideal form of the gearah unknown in Akiva's time. After the problem of sinat chinum is broached in Yoma 9b, we find a story of Reish Lakish swimming in the Jordan. Now this is very close to the situation where Reish lakish was after losing his strength in the aftermath of accepting ol malchut shamayim. So the situation parallels the set up of the yoma 9b where despite Israel's folllowing of all mitzvot the second temple was destroyed. Reish lakish in b.m. 84b becomes baal teshuvah yet loses his legendary strength so that he can't jump out of the river. Now in yoma 9b Reish lakish appears swimming in the jordan refusing a lift out from the babylonian tradent and wonder seer Rav bar bar hana saying " G-d, I hate you (pl.)" referring to all babylonian Jews. Reish LAkish then explains his theory that the Second commonwealth failed because of insufficient emigration by the babylonian jews. Yet this theory is challenged by his friend and opponent rabbi yohanan. Reish Lakish makes no second challenge . And since in disputes between reish lakish and rabbi yohanan, yohanan almost always wins, I feel quite sure that reish Lakish abandons his theory. Moreover the sugya itself suggests that the problem of the second temple was not insufficient return but sinat chinum. Ironically even though Reish Lakish's theory of the failure of the period is rejected, the form of his gearah is not! The sugya tries to dispute the occurence altogether yet the testimony holds. In the end we learn that Reish Lakish was such a yashar that being in his presence could count as a loan qualification. The " I hate you" stands and through this gearah, by implication, Reish Lakish abandons his anger at the Babylonian Jews. This is one ideal outcome of a tochacha: i discover that my negativity toward you is unfounded. This is precisely what the Ramban describes in his commentary on Vayikra 19:17 as a positive outcome of a tochachah. Now even though reish lakish does not regain his strength here we can now see that the initial encounter with r. yohanan left a lot of unresolved conflict which could not be resolved through the oblique method of sister marriage or Torah study. In fact the Talmud reveals that the two had hidden attitudes toward one another. Unfortunately, the two failed to confront one another on these problematic issues and prpbably both died on account of sinat chhinum. Still Reish lakish's use of "I hate you" establishes him for me as the first of the ahronim (everyone since Ezra) Reish=head or first Lakish=
=Last harvester. Reish Lakish's oppositional style for me is the heart of the Talmud. while the tanak describes the path through the red sea as being created by a divine gearah (Nahum1:4). Reish Lakish shows that the path through the Jordan is really a path to resolution with another, a path of the gearah or more generally the tochacha. And it may be (spit, spit) that Yoma 9b and Reish Lakish's story marks the beginning of something alluded to in Zephaniah, the beginning of a clear (not "pure") language.
the last category I desribed was the tochachah nochach: this is a tentative category, the others being set up in Mishlay (proverbs). This is a confonting that's bodily but not violent. One form is a demonstration like Mordecai's outfront refusal to bow to Haman. In this way Mordecai opposes Haman openly rather than hiding his feeling or even worse, outwardly honoring while inwardly filled with contempt. In my mind megillat esther is vision of Am Yisrael without sinat chinum. Am yisrael becomes in megillat esther Am mordecai. Am yisrael must become Am mordecai a natiion of people who do not lie especially with our very bodies. And Torah? In megillat esther, Torah, is her tor, the tor or turn of esther before the king. The tor i'm referring to is the second tor when Esther confronts the king risking death. In the end, those intent on killing Jews reveal themselves and only they are killed by Jews. there is no murder of innocents by Jews. The sons of haman are executed by the king.
Of course there are other forms of the tochacha nochach but tthe one I'm most interested in appears described in Herbert Weiner's 9 1/2 mystics. There Weiner desribes a Hasidic wedding where the attendees use a practice of pushing to determine who will have the honor of being near the most honored guest. This makes me laugh. Whether it be a simple demand or saying I hate You or just pushing to see who's kavana is stronger, it may turn out, as Purim suggests, that the solutions to sinat chinum are ultimately, simply funny.

Anonymous said...

Looking over the above comment, which I pounded out, I see a few glaring problems. I was incorrect to claim that Moses angry explosion at the commanders over the survival of midiani women and boys was considered by the Torah to be a gearah. Quite the contrary this incident is exemplifies an irrational possibly paranoic rage (which and does not exemplify what Lev 19:17 means by opposition or confrontation). Even though any outburst may be preferable to continual repression at least one midrash does not condone this behavior. Pirke De Rabbi Eliezer holds that the Ruach Hakodesh temporarily left Moses at this time. Actually there is significant evidence in the Torah that the whole sequence of events involving Peor mark the greatest failure of Moses life. But since this is controversial I'm stopping unless someone engages me on this.
I;d like to clarify that on the first purim those who were killed were not merely killed for revealing their intent to kill but were in full attack mode with clear intent to kill. The device of purim sets up an absolutely clear situation of self defense. There is no preemption, overreaction, escalation, or collateral killing of innocents. However despite the achievement of only killing in self defense we could imagine a siuation where a future mordecai and Esther come to terms with murderous rage without the need for physical self defense.
It is my belief that the clarity in the relationship between Esther and Mordecai and also a clarity, a responsiveness in the Jewish community at the time saved not only the Jews from destruction but also saved the Persians and the kIng from power intoxications which had already began to ravage the dignity of women. Another clarification about the relationship between sinat hinam and megilat esther (and there are many) In aworld we
here sinat hinamis addressed Am Yisrael becomes Am Mordecai, Torah becomes Tor Esther and Hashem becomes MAkom Acher Another place. If our hearts were completely clear we would have full contact with our neshama and the entire creation surrounding us and we would know exactly what to do at every moment.