Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A time to love and a time to hate? Another investigation of controlling thoughts

At Seudah Shelishit (the third meal, i.e. dinner on Shabbat) on Shabbat/Sukkot, a group of friends were sitting in the Sukkah and singing the well-known third chapter of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) — "There is a time for everything under the sun." Codified in 20th century pop-culture by the Byrds, this chapter outlines a series of polarities which humanity encounters during life.

As I was sitting there, the eighth verse of the chapter grabbed my attention: עֵת לֶאֱהֹב וְעֵת לִשְׂנֹא, עֵת מִלְחָמָה וְעֵת שָׁלוֹם (A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace).

Out loud, I wondered, is there really a time for hatred? What does that mean? We should allot particular time in our lives for hatred? Hateful thoughts are okay under specific situations?

The person across from me said absolutely. The Nazis killed his ancestors. He hates them and there is nothing wrong with that. More than that, he should hate them. He clearly should not act on these thoughts, but they are completely justified in themselves. There is a time to hate under the sun.

I am less confident with such a declaration. I, thankfully, do not have an interaction with such atrocities which give me the intangible and irrational emotions which lead individuals to emote and think as such.

Again, my thoughts go to West Wing. When President Bartlet asks Charlie if he would like for the man who murdered his mother executed, he responds: "I wouldn't want to see him executed, Mr. President. I'd want to do it myself" (Season 1, "Take this Sabbath day").

Such a vocalization is cathartic and healthy. To suggest that one should push aside thoughts of hatred after an incomprehensible tragedy such as murder is both callous and dangerous to the victim's family. Such thoughts need to be expressed openly, not held back. 

But the question is if after such catharthis, there is something dangerous in festering hatred.

In line with this whole line conversation, I'm led to believe that thoughts do not exist in isolation, and are in dynamic tension with words and actions. Such is the reason that the vidui tells us we must be so conscious of הרהור/י הלב, our reverberations, our "uncontrolled" thoughts. They are the keystone to all of our interactions with the outside world.

Yet at the same time, are there times in our lives when hatred truly is not only a merited response, but the correct and only one for the moment? Ecclesiastes decidedly says yes.

During the Shabbat before Purim, we read "Parashat Zachor," specifically mandating us to remember what the Amelekite nation did to the Hebrews when we/they left Egypt (Deut. 25:17-19):

יז זָכוֹר, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם. יח אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל-הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ--וְאַתָּה, עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ; וְלֹא יָרֵא, אֱלֹהִים. יט וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ יְקוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל-אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב, בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה-אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ--תִּמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם; לֹא, תִּשְׁכָּח

Remember what Amalek did to you by the way as you left Egypt; 18 how he met you by the way, and killed your most vulnerable, all that were languishing in the back, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God 19 Therefore it shall be, when Adonai your God gave you rest from all your enemies around, in the land which Adonai your God gave you for an inheritance to possess it, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.

This passage does not specifically say "you shall hate Amalek." But it mandates that you should Remember how Amalek picked off the very weakest of your people and killed them with complete and utter disregard to humanity writ-large. That's a pretty explicit remembrance.

I'm not sure how you could remember this without hating. After all, the verse outlines exactly what you are to remember and gives you "a show but don't tell" edict of "You shall hate Amalek."

Perhaps this is Ecclesiastes' time under the sun?

Throughout all of this, my mind immediately goes to the verse in Leviticus 19:17 — לֹא-תִשְׂנָא .אֶת-אָחִיךָ, בִּלְבָבֶךָ You shall note hate your brother in your heart.

But who is this אחיך, your "brother"? It certainly doesn't seem to be Amalek. They aren't my family.

But could they be? Are there inherently evil people? Is this verse referring to the brotherhood of humanity? 

In Hannah Arendt's terms, what is the banality of evil? Are all humans capable of indescribable horror and thus we truly are all brothers?

Abraham Ibn Ezra (12th c. Spain) says that verse 17 is a negative recitation of the so-called "Golden Rule," which is immediately following. And thus, it would necessarily include all of humanity — I don't know of any religious tradition that suggests "Love your neighbor as yourself" only applies to a particular ethnic group or religion. Yet in the very same comment, he says that the Second Temple was destroyed for such "senseless hatred," שנאת חינם, which gives the commandment a decidedly particularistic mandate — this was Jewish senseless hatred, not that of others. And thus the dialectic remains in the air.

More than this, the Spanish scholar says that one must protect these thoughts from entering here heart, as the commandment completely emphasizes thought-based activities.

אבן עזרא ויקרא י''ז
יז) לא תשנא את אחיך הפך ואהבת לרעך (יח). והנה אלה המצות כולם נטועות בלב, ובהשמרם ישבו בארץ, כי על שנאת חנם חרב בית שני. הוכח תוכיח שמא תחשדהו בדבר ולא היה כן, וזה טעם ולא תשא עליו חטא, כי עונש יהיה לך בעבורו:

20th century Bible scholar Jacob Milgrom notes that Nachmanides (hereafter referred to as Ramban, 13th c. Spain) suggests that verses 17 and 18 are written in a chiastic structure, the first half of each verse being general commands and the end of each, the details of how to accomplish them (Anchor Bible Commentary, Leviticus 17-22, 1646).

פירוש הרמב''ן, פסוק יז
לא תשנא את אחיך בלבבך - בעבור שדרך השונאים לכסות את שנאתם בלבם כמו שאמר (משלי כו כד) בשפתיו ינכר שונא, הזכיר הכתוב בהווה:

ואמר הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך - מצוה אחרת, ללמדו תוכחת מוסר, "ולא תשא עליו חטא" שיהיה עליך אשם כאשר יחטא ולא הוכחת אותו. ולזה יטה לשון אונקלוס שאמר, ולא תקבל על דיליה חובא, שלא תקבל אתה עונש בחטא שלו. ואחרי כן צוה שתאהוב אותו. והנה השונא את רעהו עובר בלאו, והאוהב לו מקיים עשה:

והנכון בעיני, כי "הוכח תוכיח", כמו והוכיח אברהם את אבימלך (בראשית כא כה). ויאמר הכתוב, אל תשנא את אחיך בלבבך בעשותו לך שלא כרצונך, אבל תוכיחנו מדוע ככה עשית עמדי, ולא תשא עליו חטא לכסות שנאתו בלבך ולא תגיד לו, כי בהוכיחך אותו יתנצל לך, או ישוב ויתודה על חטאו ותכפר לו. ואחרי כן יזהיר שלא תנקום ממנו ולא תטור בלבבך מה שעשה לך, כי יתכן שלא ישנא אותו אבל יזכור החטא בלבו, ולפיכך יזהירנו שימחה פשע אחיו וחטאתו מלבו. ואחרי כן יצוה שיאהב לו כמוהו:

But Milgram says that the Joseph Bekhor Shor's (12th c. France) analysis is more precise, that the two verses form literary parallels:

17 Do not hate your brother in your heart לֹא-תִשְׂנָא אֶת-אָחִיךָ, בִּלְבָבֶךָ
18 Do not bear any grudge against the children of your people לֹא-תִקֹּם וְלֹא-תִטֹּר אֶת-בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ

17 You shall surely rebuke your neighbor הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת-עֲמִיתֶךָ וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ
18 You shall love your fellow as yourself ואהבת לרעך כמוך

17 So that you will not bear sin because of him וְלֹא-תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא
18 I Adonai (have spoken) אני יקוק

Such an analysis understands thought to be directly related to actions, and that only through restraining thought will society function. Or voiced in the negative, only through controlling thoughts will society avoid destroying itself from the inside.

Again, this understanding particularly relates to the Rabbis' (of the Rabbinic age) understanding of the destruction of the Second Temple occurring because of sinat hinam, senseless hatred (Milgram, 1646). Milgrom also points to Proverbs 26:24-25, which Ramban had as well, to illustrate that thoughts are often masked by inward cunning and plotting:

כד. בִּשְׂפָתָו, יִנָּכֵר שׂוֹנֵא; וּבְקִרְבּוֹ, יָשִׁית מִרְמָה. כה. כִּי-יְחַנֵּן קוֹלוֹ, אַל-תַּאֲמֶן-בּוֹ: כִּי שֶׁבַע תּוֹעֵבוֹת בְּלִבּוֹ.

24. An enemy dissembles with his speech, Inwardly he harbors deceit. 25. Though he be fair-spoken do not trust him, For seven abominations are in his mind.

Are hateful thoughts preventable? In an immediate way, perhaps not. But psychologically, over time, I would like to think that such hatred diminishes — but only with active work. Again, Milgram suggests that Avsalom's hatred of his half-brother Amnon and his plot to kill him is directly related to the fact that Avshalom did not "utter a word to Amnon good or bad" (2 Sam 13:22).

Had he conversed, engaged with this hatred, would the result have differed?

Can we keep such thoughts out of heads on a permanent basis? No.

After engaging with these texts, I am more inclined to say that perhaps there are times under the sun for hatred. VERY specific times.

But who gets to decide this? The ramifications of this decision are dangerous to the utmost. These thoughts produce very real and tangible results in our world. In many cases, these thoughts mark tangible sins. But these momentary sins are blips on the radar compared to the long-term danger of festering hatred, the reason that CJ was quite so emphatic about the Hate Crimes legislation.

So is there a time for hatred under the sun?

Your turn.

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