Rabbi Yaacov Haber
One of the most trying epochs in the history of the Jewish People took place in the year 3828, better known as year 68 of the Common Era. The Jews lived in the Land of Israel, as they do today, but more so. Jerusalem was our religious center. The Beis HaMikdash stood gloriously and a renaissance of scholarship was under way. However, the Roman Empire was growing daily and the dreadful time has come when the Roman Emperor decided to conquer Jerusalem. The Jews in Israel were in a state of fear, shock and controversy. The people of Israel broke out into divergent groups.
On the extreme was group known as the Beryonim, militant nationalists determined to fight to the bitter end. On the other side was the Rabbinic leadership led by Rebbe Yochanan ben Zakai who were searching for reasonable ways to negotiate with the Romans and make peace for they foresaw in their wisdom that there was no chance to win a war against the Roman Empire.
There were many groups in the middle, each with their own thesis as to how to deal with the oncoming storm. From a state of unity the Jewish people erupted into numerous fragmented groups each trying to undermine the other. They didn't only argue politics, but argued Mesorah.
The beryonim claimed that the Gedolei Hador, the rabbinic leadership, were no longer carriers of the Mesorah. Each on proclaimed his version of Judaism to be the only correct version. Ultimately the division made Israel into a pushover state. The Romans entered and burned down Jerusalem.
In the words of our sages: The first Temple was destroyed because people violated the three cardinal sins. They worshipped foreign gods, there was murder in the streets and forbidden incestuous and adulterous relationships were common place. During the Second Temple period none of this took place. Jerusalem was destroyed because of Sinas Chinom, causeless hate. The accusations and smearing, one group of another, had nothing to do any longer with the issues at hand. Causeless discrediting and hate were common. In the words of the Talmud, "this teaches us that Sinas Chinom is equal to the three most serious transgressions of the Torah."
The Jerusalem Talmud questions this deduction [as to the gravity of these transgressions being equal]. In fact the Babylonian exile lasted only 70 years while the Roman exile is still with us today. The amount of bloodshed caused by the Romans and their followers far outreached the horrors of the Babylonians. The Jerusalem Talmud concludes therefore, that in fact, causeless hate is much worse than the worst transgression of the Torah. In their words, during the first Temple era the wrongdoings were open, whereas, during the second they were hidden.
The Vilna Goad in his commentary to Bava Basra offers a profound explanation. As terrible as the violation of the cardinal sins of the Torah are, they do not, says the GRA, necessarily indicate that the people are intrinsically evil. It is possible to be taken into a culture of idolatry, to lose one's head and kill or to fall into a forbidden relationship. These are the terrible sins and one must give one's life to avoid them. But the can be external to the person and do not necessarily define the person. Hate, state the GRA, is an internal sin. It reflects the essence of the human being and defines him. A person who hates has a bad heart. With a bad heart one can not worship God. The Temple was destroyed and will remain that way until we remedy the cause.
I remember almost 20 years ago when I was newly married and living in Jerusalem. My wife and I hosted a sheva brochos for one of our friends. In his honor amongst the many guests was on the great Poskim of Jerusalem, Rabbi Chaim Pinchus Scheinberg. A discussion broke out at the table about why there seems to be so much mudslinging going on in a certain community. Some claimed that jealousy was the cause, another said it was ignorance and yet another claimed it was financial. We looked toward the Rav as he said, "Ich mein as es felt in lev tov" [I think there is a lack of good heartedness]. A good hearted person doesn't hate. This, says the GRA, was the sin that we still mourn.
I'd like to draw a parallel. Allow me to present before you two scenarios of which I'd like you to judge which is worse.
A person keeps kosher. Only the strictest standard will do. He goes to his normal Glatt Kosher butcher shop and buys a piece of meat. The butcher earlier that day had a visit from another neighborhood butcher that wasn't kosher. He had surplus meat was wiling to sell it to the kosher butcher for a fraction of the price. The kosher butcher couldn't resist and bought it. Our glatt kosher consumer ate trief.
Scenario two. A kosher keeping Jews slips down a few rungs and decides he's going to have some trief. He randomly gets off the bus in China Town walks into the first butcher shop and buys 2 pounds of felanken. Little does he realize that earlier in the day the Chinaman got a great deal from the kosher butcher who wanted to leave for the mountains and so sold him his inventory for a fraction of the price. Our traifenyack had a glatt kosher dinner.
Which is worse? He who did the sin but didn't want to, or he who wanted to but didn't do it? Says the Gemara in Sanhedrin as the Maharsha explains it "Hirhurei Averia kashin MeAveira," the though of sin is worse than the sin itself. One, says the Maharsha, is a function of one's actions and one is a function of the heart. A sin of the heart is much worse for although the heart's wish has not been fulfilled, the wish served the purpose of defining what I am. As much as the Torah is concerned with what I do, it is much more concerned with what I am.
Rebbe Yochanan ben Zakai was the leader of the generation. He had a rumor spread that he had died, and then left Jerusalem in a coffin in order to negotiate with Vespasian without being assassinated by his brethren. In a lesson with his students in Yavneh after the Temple had been destroyed he implored them to look around them and observe what the main path a man should seek to walk on. They came back with many observations of what could have avoided the tragedies of the day. A good eye, a pursuit of friendship, neighborliness. R. Elazar ben Aroch said a good heart. Lev Tov. R. Yochanan ben Zakai told his students that R. Elazar hit the nail on the head. Because if one has a good heart everything else will follow. The message of the GRA was exactly that of R. Yochanan ben Zakai's message to his generation and to ours.
Yesterday I had a conversation with a member of the faculty of the Lakewood Yeshiva. The Yeshiva, he told me, wishes to get involved in outreach, they have an army of 2000! We discussed what took so long and I proposed that Rav Aharon Kotler zt'l was against spending so much time away from Torah study. But, I said, although I can't prove it I believe that if Reb Aharon was alive today he would back the Kiruv movement 100%. The person I was talking to corrected me and said that the can prove it. Before Reb Aharon moved to the United States he was Rosh Yeshiva in Keltzk. Reb Aharon at that time spent half of every day knocking on the doors of Kletzk, the doors of the Bundistim and the Maskillim and begged them to send their children to a yeshiva. Few of us do that today.
We must stop speaking about exclusivity and start speaking about inclusivity. We must celebrate our commonalities and develop a tolerance for differences of opinion that are wholly within the boundaries of the Halacha. Most of all we must develop a Lev Tov.
Rav Nachman Breslover once asked if the right is so important in Jewish law why is our heart on our left side? Said Rav Nachman, if our heart is for ourselves than we have an excellent question. But if our heart is for person that stands before me, than in fact it is on his right.
May we merit seeing the unity of our people and the speedy rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash in our days.