Disengaging from Hatred

Dear Friends, 
Rosh Chodesh Av - the New Moon of the Month of Av - begins this Tuesday evening. Rosh Chodesh Av is also the beginning of the final nine days of mourning for the Temple and for remembering the suffering of our exile. The last day of this period is the Fast of "Tisha B'Av" - the Ninth of Av - which commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. Seventy years after the destruction of the First Temple, the Second Temple was built, but after the destruction of the Second Temple, a long exile began, and the Temple has still not been rebuilt.

What is the main sin which caused the destruction of the Second Temple and the long exile which followed? The Talmud explains:
"We know that in the Second Temple era they involved themselves with Torah, mitzvos, and acts of lovingkindness - why then was it destroyed? Because there was sinas chinam - unwarranted hatred - among them." (Yoma 9b).

The Temple enabled us to experience the Shechinah - the Divine Presence - in our midst. Our tradition teaches that a contributing factor to the hatred which led to the destruction of the Temple and our exile from the Shechinah was loshon hara - speaking about others in a derogatory or harmful way. The Midrash states that loshon hara prevents the building of the Temple, and it also cites the following teaching of Rabbi Mona:

Rabbi Mona said, "Whoever speaks loshon hara causes the Shechinah to ascend from this world." (Midrash Devarim Rabbah 5:10)

Feelings and words of hatred have no place within the sacred land which serves as the home of the Holy Temple. This is because a major goal of Jerusalem and the pilgrimage of all the tribes to her Holy Temple was to foster love and unity among the People of Israel, as it is written: "The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that fosters togetherness; for there the tribes ascended" (Psalm 122: 3,4). The Jerusalem Talmud explains that the pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem on the Festivals caused a spiritual elevation which enabled all the people to develop a greater commitment to the mitzvos of the Torah; thus, they all became chaverim - spiritual comrades (Chagigah 3:6). 
The Mishnah teaches that our ancestors experienced ten miracles in the Holy Temple. The tenth miracle was that during the pilgrimage festivals, when all the tribes flocked to the Temple, no one said to his friend, "The space is insufficient for me to stay overnight in Jerusalem" (Pirkei Avos 5:7). In what way was this a miracle? Did the city miraculously expand to accomodate all the pilgrims? The  Chasam Sofer, a leading sage of the early 19th century, explains that this was the miracle of love! The great love that the people had for each other enabled each person to find a place to stay, and even if many people were sharing a room, no one felt crowded. 
When we mourn for the Temple, we are also mourning the loss of that powerful sense of love and unity. And the loss of the Temple is not only our loss; it a loss for all humanity. For the Temple was designed to also serve as a unifying center for all human beings. In fact, after King Solomon built the First Temple, he prayed to the Compassionate One to hear the prayers of the Gentile pilgrim "who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land for Your Name's sake" (I Kings 8:41). In this spirit, we read on Tisha B'Av afternoon the prophecy which contains the following Divine promise: "My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples" (Isaiah 56:7).
The goal of the Holy Temple was to unify the People of Israel and to eventually unify all the peoples of the earth. When, due to the rise of unwarranted hatred, the Temple was no longer bringing us to this unifying goal, the Temple was taken from us. And if the Temple has not yet been rebuilt, then this indicates that the sin of unwarranted hatred is still with us! The Chofetz Chaim, a leading sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, elaborates on this idea:

"Well known is the statement of our Sages that the generation at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple performed mitzvos and studied Torah sufficiently, but caused the Temple to be destroyed through sinas chinam  and lashon hara. The early commentators have written that if these sins had the power to cause a standing edifice to be destroyed, then certainly their continued presence will prevent a new Temple from being built. This fact is alluded to in our Sages' statement that any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt is considered as if it had destroyed it (Talmud Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1). We therefore have no choice but to strengthen our efforts to correct this sin." (Cited in "Chofetz Chaim, A Lesson A Day" published by ArtScroll)
Yes, the ongoing sin is unwarranted hatred; however, don't people usually feel that "their" hatred is warranted? In fact, if you would have asked someone living during the period of the Second Temple why he hated his neighbor in his heart, he would have come up with various reasons to justify himself. From his perspective, his hatred was warranted!

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, a noted 20th century sage who taught "Musar" - Torah Ethics - responds to this rationalization by reminding us of the following truth: From the perspective of the Torah, most hatred is unwarranted! According to the Torah, our petty prejudices, arrogance, judgemental attitude, jealousy, resentment, anger, and desire for revenge are not valid reasons for hating others. Rabbi Lopian explains that the mistake of the people of the Second Temple period was that they failed to investigate whether their hatred was permitted according to Torah - the Divine wisdom. Had they done the proper spiritual study, they would have discovered that their hatred was indeed unwarranted. (Rabbi Lopian's teachings are cited in "Consulting the Wise" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.)
Those involved with natural healing know that the body releases toxins just before the final healing. So too, before the arrival of the messianic age, the last remaining toxins of strife and hatred are surfacing so that our people and and entire world can experience complete healing and renewal.  We therefore need to ensure that we are part of the solution and not the problem.  As the Chofetz Chaim explains:

"The coming of Moshiach - the Messiah - is literally in our hands, for Zohar Chadash states (Parshas Noach 23:3) that a single congregation can merit to bring about the Final Redemption by internalizing the quality of shalom in the desired way. It is impossible to merit the quality of shalom without first ridding oneself of baseless hatred and loshon hora. Whoever will strive to rid himself of these sins will have a share in the building of the Third Temple.

...How exalted will be those who merit these accomplishments, for when Moshiach will appear and the Temple will be built, it will become known that they played an important role in bringing this about."


Much Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)

P.S. Rosh Chodesh Av is also the anniversary of the passing of Aaron, the Kohen (Numbers 33:38). Aaron was known for his love for people and for his efforts to achieve unity and shalom. In the spirit of Aaron, the loving Kohen, the Hazon letters during this period of mourning will be devoted to practical teachings and suggestions as to how we can disengage from hatred, in order to strengthen unity and shalom within our familes, communities, our people, and the world.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision