As we contemplate our role in rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash, in this period of mourning for its loss, we each have to come to grips with sinas chinam (literally, free hatred), which Chazal identify as the cause of that destruction. Most frequently, the term is defined as “causeless hatred,” which has always left me somewhat puzzled because very few people will ever admit to hating someone for no reason at all. No doubt the host who hated Bar Kamtza could have offered a long list of reasons justifying his hatred.
Rene Levy, a religious professor emeritus of neuropharmacology at the University of Washington, offers another possible explanation in Baseless Hatred: What It Is and What You Can Do About It (Gefen Publishing House). In his description, sinas chinam is that part of the strong negative feelings we might have about another Jew that is excessive.
We hold our anger too long; we do not take the steps recommended by the Torah to deal with our hatred, for instance, by airing our grievance with the one who has angered us; we spread hatred among Jews through our gossip about the object of our hatred; or we fail to balance our anger towards a fellow Jew against the feeling of mutual responsibility and closeness for our fellow Jews that is inherent in the concept of areivus.
In short, the “free” element of our hatred is all that which is over and beyond that which can possibly be justified by anything done to us. When reframed in that fashion, it should be a lot easier for most of us to identify where our work lies in rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash.
First published in Mishpacha, August 5.