Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Sinas Chinam

"How (eicha) can I alone carry your trouble, your burden, and your quarrels - ...torchachem masa'achem v'rivchem" (Devarim 1:12)." The people of Israel were troublesome. If one of them would see his adversary winning the case, he would say "I have witnesses to bring, I have proofs to bring, I am adding judges to you (Rashi)

This passuk is read in the mournful tune of Eicha used on Tisha B'av implying that the trouble ("torchachem") is of a tragic nature. Why is invoking a halachically accepted legalism (Chosehn Mishpat 13:1, 20:1) in a court battle so terrible?

In fact, the insistence on every legal right is precisely what brought about the destruction of Yerushalayim on Tisha B'av. Yerushalayim was destroyed because they limited their din to the letter of the law of the Torah, and did not go beyond the letter of the law (Bava Metsia 30b). A more well known reason for the churban is sinas chinam, baseless hatred (Yoma 9b). Tosfos reconcile this apparent contradiction by attributing the churban to both, i.e. to two disparate causes.

Perhaps a different reconciliation can be suggested. Baseless hatred is defined as hatred for insufficient cause. One Jew has a claim or complaint against another and is unwilling to compromise or forgive in the spirit of going beyond the letter of the law; he insists on the letter of the law as he perceives it. Such an approach often leads to hatred of the other party who refuses to honor his demands. This hatred is a result of his insistence on invoking his legal rights, both real and perceived. It is called sinas chinam because the hate is halachically unjustified. Hence there were not two separate causes of the churban, rather there was one (invoking all legalisms in a court battle) which lead to another (sinas chinam). Indeed, torchachem, the troubling legalism, caused rivchem, quarrels and unjustified hatred. These are the two related factors which led to the churban. The mournful Eicha tune is therefore entirely appropriate.

"What is masa'achem, your burden? If Moshe left home early, they said perhaps he has marital problems. If he left home late, they said he is sitting and devising plans against you" (Rashi). One who disrespects Torah scholars is called an apikores (Rashi, based on Sanhderin 99b). Two questions arise. Why did the Jews disrespect Moshe? And why is this disrespect juxtaposed with the aforementioned trouble and quarrels?

In light of the above the answer is clear. Many people were upset with Moshe's decision against them in favor of their adversary. Others were offended by Moshe's rebuke or were displeased with his leadership style. Instead of forgiving Moshe for "wronging" them, in their warped perception, they chose to exercise their perceived "right" to criticize the leader, and interpreted his every move negatively. This led to sinas chinam of the worst kind, directed against Torah leaders.

Yerushalayim was destroyed because the people did not admonish one another (Shabbos 119b).Why didn't the Torah scholars admonish the people? Perhaps the answer lies in the next line of the gemara: Yerushalayim was destroyed because the people demeaned its Torah scholars. Aside from the intrinsic sin of disrespect, the attitude made it impossible for the talmedei chachamim to rebuke the people who demeaned and disregarded them.

Thus masa'achem, disrespect for Torah scholars, caused the churban, as did torchachem and rivchem. Unfortunately, all these continue to plague our litigious, disrespectful and quarrelsome society, causing broken homes, destroyed communities and undue criticism of rabbonim.

"In every generation in which the Beis Hamikdosh is not rebuilt, it is as if it was destroyed in its days" (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1). Had a generation rectified the sins that caused the churban, the Bais Hamikdash would have been rebuilt immediately. Apparently, we are still guilty of those sins.

The Netziv (Meishiv Davar 1:44) dramatically expands the understanding of the sinas chinam which caused the churban. He says that the hate was not limited to those who "wronged" a person. Rather, it extended to those who served Hashem differently. If one would see a halachic leniency, he would brand it heresy, and distance himself from that person. He would then mistakenly justify attacking that person, even to the point of murder.

The Netziv laments that such internal hatred within the observant community existed in his time (the late nineteenth century) as well. Hating someone who "wronged" us is necessarily limited. With how many people can we fight over money or honor? But if we hate those who differ with us on matters of halacha or hashkafa, the sinas chinam is unlimited. Unfortunately, Orthodox individuals and communities with different halachic practices and/or ideologies are still guilty of this type of sinas chinam, which is preventing the ge'ula.

As we mark Tisha B'av in particularly troublesome and quarrelsome times, let us resolve to correct those sins. If we do so, the Bais Hamikdosh will be rebuilt immediately.

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