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   by Jacob Solomon

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‘You slandered... and said, “G-d, in His hatred for us, brought us out of Egypt to deliver us in the hands of the Amorites…”’ (1:27).

Such were the words that Moses used in rebuking the Israelites before his death when he recalled the reaction of the Israelites to the report of the Spies some forty years previously. This passage brings the following questions:

  1. Why, at the early stage of the rebuke, did Moses recall the sin of the Spies, but not that of the Golden Calf?

  2. Why is the word ‘hatred’ included in this account, but not in the main one in Number 13-14?
  3. How was recalling the Spies relevant to the people he was rebuking? All those who had been involved had already died in the previous forty years in the wilderness.

As a key, look at the following:

Sir Lancelot Fotherington-Gore was the British delegate to an important conference of the United Nations. At the grand opening dinner, he found himself seated next to the Chinese representative, Wung Chow Sang. Feeling distinctly awkward and out of place, he ate the first course in silence, but when the soup plates came, he opened the conversation with: “Likee soupee?”

Wung Chow Sang nodded politely. They continued to eat in silence.

At the end of the meal Wung rose and addressed the entire assembly in perfect Oxford English with a structured proposal to improve the conditions of international finance for developing countries. After forty-five minutes he sat down to a thunderous applause.

As he took his seat again he whispered to Sir Lancelot: “Likee speechee?”

With that anecdote in mind, consider the main setting of the rebuke of Moses:

G-d did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see, or ears to hear until this day. And I went with you forty years in the wilderness… (29:3-4)

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 5b) uses this verse to derive the principle that it takes forty years for a student to gain the depth of understanding of the Torah as expounded by his teacher. Thus the time of Moses’ death coincided with the stage that the Israelites matured to such a level of comprehension that they would ‘internalize’ his message and take his rebukes seriously. They were then, and only then in the best position to consider the underlying faults of the previous generation and learn profitably from them.

Moses thus opens his address with the words:

How can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels? (1:12)

Following that he went into detail about the principles of administering and delegating justice – quarrels between people.

Dislike – a mild form of hatred – is something that underlies much litigation. Courts and legal instruments are referred to where normal communication breaks down, where matters cannot be resolved by amicable agreements, where a third party has to weigh up the merits of the cases of the respective litigants. Moses (above) laments that such was the nature of disputes in the first place…

Going deeper into the matter - normal communication fails where people do not ‘know’ one another. They do not know, or care enough about the person they are dealing with to make a real effort to empathize with his reality and circumstances. This principle is brought out in the next stage of his rebuke. That also dealt with ‘a quarrel’ – this time between the Israelites and G-d.

Looking at the account of the Spies, they did not explore the land according to the wishes of the Almighty (veyaturu) (Num. 13:2), or in terms of the wishes of those who sent them (ve-yachperu) (1:22). Instead of carrying out the onerous task of obtaining detailed information about the Land, the Spies toured the land in such a way as to only get a superficial picture of it (vayeraglu – literally, they walked though it). Their real knowledge of the land compared to Sir Lancelot’s superficiality towards, and stereotyping of, Wung Chow Sang before the speech. Because of the lack of effort on their part in getting real information – which they tried to cover up with the samples of the Lands’ produce, they failed to get a real picture of the weaknesses, as well as the strengths of the Canaanites. Therefore they brought a report which, when put together, conveyed a false overall impression of the situation. Hence the second meaning of vayeraglu – and they gossiped - they brought untrue information about the Land. That was a sinat chinam (groundless hatred) of the Land.

There are many situations which, on a more mundane level, bring out similar negative instincts in people. They include for example, being seated at a wedding with someone of a different background or outlook. Or being required to do an essential task outside one’s usual field. The instincts in both examples are to put up a barrier of resentment without taking the trouble to find out what exactly is involved. That brings us to one of the roots of sinat chinam. The hatred is indeed groundless until we have ascertained what the reality of the person or situation is. And that takes time and effort which human nature is not always happy to invest… And laziness is groundless – no excuse!

Thus, the abhorrence of Sinat Chinam was the message that headed Moses’ final messages to the Israelites before his death. And the method that Moses used to convey that point – to his ‘mature students - implies for all time the nature of the roots of sinat chinam and the way that they may be avoided.

As the Talmud (Yoma 9b) puts it:

The Jews of the Second Temple period were involved in Torah, Mitzvot and acts of kindness. Why then was the Second Temple destroyed? Because they also practiced groundless hatred. This teaches us that sinat chinam is as serious as the three cardinal sins – idolatry, adultery and murder.

In today’s society we are confronted with many unexpected situations – having to accommodate people outside the type we consider ‘our circle’, the need to adapt to new and often onerous responsibilities... And one of the ways to eliminate sinat chinam is to face each new situation as a potential challenge to grow through understanding more, and broadening one’s horizons rather than retreat into the protective cocoon of one’s immediate circle and routine.



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