Thursday, 4 August 2011

Destructive Behaviour

We are in the midst of the ‘Three Weeks’ commemorating the destruction of both first and second Temples. All are welcome to the commemoration service and study session on the eve of Monday 8th August.


The Talmud, Yoma 9b, is quite clear as to the cause of the destruction of the First Temple. ‘idolatry, sexual impropriety and bloodshed’  are blamed and indeed such gross disregard of standards of behaviour both inter-personal and theological is appalling. But the same passage goes on to express this element of surprise ‘But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time the Children of Israel occupied themselves with Torah, the observance of Mitzvot and the practice of loving kindness? Why was the Temple destroyed? Because there was groundless hatred. This teaches that groundless hatred is considered equal to ‘idolatry, sexual impropriety and bloodshed.’


The interesting part of the Hebrew phrase for ‘groundless hatred’ – Sinat Hinam – is the second word ‘Hinam’ which suggests a gratuitous response of hate, out of kilter with any provocation. Deserved hatred, as it were, is not beyond the pale. I wonder if a sensitivity to this reading might have been part of Martin Buber’s enormously influential thesis ‘I and Thou.’ There are normal relationships, suggested Buber, relationships that are deserved, reciprocal or transactional. They are the ‘I – it’ relationships that occupy our humdrum mundane activities. And then there are relationships that bubble over the bonds of reciprocity, relationships where we love more than is deserved, where we commit before we measure. Of course Buber was talking about love, rather than hatred, but the point, I think, is the same.


The true power of the relationships we create lies in stepping beyond what is deserved, either, perish the thought, for hatred, or for love. So, a task for these days of mourning and memory – we should stretch our relational muscles to do something beyond what is required, beyond what is deserved so we can prove ourselves to be masters of Hesed Hinam, groundless acts of kindness and build towards a time when destruction is no longer a marker of our faith and community.


Shabbat shalom,


Rabbi Jeremy

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