We are now in the midst of the Nine Days, the period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The sages teach that the Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, causeless hatred. In order to rebuild the Temple and end this long exile, we will therefore need to understand precisely what sinat chinam is and how we can correct it.
What is this concept of “causeless” hatred? Are there not reasons for our resentments and grudges? Was I not wronged by this one, and didn’t that one cheat me or treat me first with disrespect? The sages teach that causeless hatred does not mean that we don’t have valid complaints about one another; we are all imperfect, and whether it is intentional or unintentional, we all are guilty of slighting or insulting each other now and again. What renders our antipathy “causeless” is that we forget that we are all one being.
The mystics explain that each of us is purely and simply a vessel for One unique and unified reality. We are the same stuff, expressed through various forms. We are one collective soul, known as “Knesset Yisrael,” that has been temporarily divided into “pieces” and dressed in different clothes, so to speak. In our deepest essence, there is no distinction between us—we are One. Imagine how different our lives would be if we lived with this awareness; if we could transcend our limited perspective of me and you, and understand that you are simply another manifestation of what has manifested in me as me.
This concept has been described as water that has been poured into various containers or light that shines through different shades of glass. Though it is the same water or the same light, it appears and exhibits differently depending on that which contains or conveys it. If we can understand each other this way, then would it not be foolish to resent one another, or envy one another or harm one another? We would only be hating or hurting ourselves. It would be as if one accidentally smashes his finger while hammering a nail, and then grabs the hammer with the injured hand and smashes the hand that held the hammer first.
Think of the person that you like least in the world—someone with whom you have had an ongoing feud or who is currently making your life difficult. Now put yourself in her/his shoes, literally. Imagine that it is you in that body—the very same you that is in your body but with a completely different set of traits and experiences. How did you become you and s/he become her/him? Is it possible that the identical essence, placed in a vastly different context and environment, could produce such distinct and conflicting individuals? It is not only possible; it is precisely what has happened! If we trace us both back to our beginning, prior to our lifetime of encounters and challenges, we will find that it is the same Nitzotz Elokus/“Spark of God” within each of us.
When I see the “me” in you and the “you” in me, I cannot hate you. As the superficial and temporal exterior falls away, all of my anger subsides, and I see only what unites us rather than all of the surface elements that distinguish and divide us. Sinat chinam, we come to understand, is a recognition of the surface alone and not its inner reality. It is “causeless” hatred because it perceives the effect but not its cause. The antidote to this destructive condition is therefore to see the Godly source and vitality within everything.
When we come to the awareness that we are all limbs of a single being, our feelings of resentment, competition and antagonism fade away. What remains is a remarkable sense of consonance, harmony and love that will radiate from us and ignite all of those with whom we come in contact. With this feeling of ahavat chinam/“causeless love,” we will rebuild the Temple and bring an end to all of the conflict that we have experienced throughout this long exile.
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