Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Ninth of Av
To dedicate this lesson

All You Need Is Love?

Many people focus on the physical loss we suffered, as the magnificent Bet HaMikdash went up in flames. But long after the fires died down, we were left with the burning question: “Where did we go wrong?”


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Av 5 5781
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be; it's easy - All You Need Is Love!

This iconic Beatles’ hit, written by John Lennon, was released in July of 1967 and soon became the theme song of the "Summer of Love." The song was Britain's contribution to "Our World," the first live global television link. That program was broadcast via satellite and seen by an audience of over 400 million in 25 countries. Topping the charts in the U.K., the United States and around the world, the record symbolizes universality by incorporating chords from the French National Anthem, Greensleeves and Bach’s Invention No. 8 in F major. Lennon kept the lyrics deliberately simplistic so as to project one basic, overriding sentiment: All you need is love.

"And this is of meaning to us," you ask with bewilderment, "because….?"

Well, here we are on the eve of Judaism’s national day of mourning, our "9/11" (the ninth day of the eleventh month in the Hebrew calendar), Tisha B’Av. Numerous calamities struck us on this date, the most notable being the destruction of both Temples, the sacking of Jerusalem and the end of our commonwealth. We epitomize our sadness by turning down the lights, sitting low in our places and abstaining from physical pleasures for 25 hours. This is the "Black Fast," as opposed to Yom Kippur, the uplifting White Fast.

Many people focus on the physical loss we suffered, as the magnificent Bet HaMikdash – surely one of the ancient world’s true wonders – went up in flames, and hundreds of thousands of Jews were tortured, murdered and enslaved. But long after the fires died down, we were left with the burning question: "Where did we go wrong? What horrendous sin – or sins – did we commit to deserve such a fate, such that an entire nation would be dispersed into exile for almost 1900 years?"

I suggest that the central flaw in our spiritual system, that was at the root of our troubles, was machloket; the intractable divisions between the various segments of our nation drove us apart from one another and led us to disaster. We argued in the desert on the very first Tisha B’Av as to whether we should go forward & inhabit Israel; we fought each other in the days of both Temples. And we’ve hardly stopped fighting since.

This divisiveness, you might say, is the "Av" – the "father" - of our troubles. The Alef-Bet of its nature, or its ABC, is the Argumentativeness, the Belittlement and the Confrontational posture that has become an integral part of our national personality. We see it on the roads, in the bullying at schools, and almost daily in the pitched battles taking place at the Knesset.

The Talmud hones in on the engine of this phenomenon, what it calls "Sinat Chinam." Usually translated as "baseless hatred," it describes a society where the natural impulse is to disagree with and censure others, even if you have no good reason to do so; to repel and reject rather than reason with and respect your neighbor. This condition is dramatically depicted in the famous story of kamtza & Bar Kamtza in Gemara Gitin (fittingly, the tractate that deals with the estrangement between partners) describing an intractable feud afflicting citizens of Jerusalem, that ultimately led to the demise of the city. It seems clear to me that both "Kamtza" & "Bar Kamtza" are not real names; they are rather pseudonyms built around the word "kametz" or "fist." The image of two Jews, raising their fists against one another without justification, symbolizes the enmity & divisiveness that plagued us then – and even now. The story decries the need – perhaps even the obligation – to always take sides, rather than seek a harmonious middle ground.

What is the antidote to all this? Interestingly enough, like most antidotes it can be found within the disease itself. For while the root of the word "machloket" connects to "chaluka," or "division," it also is related to "chelek," or "portion." When every person recognizes that each of us is but a portion of the whole, that we each have our own unique contribution to make to the collective, then we stop fighting one another. For we understand that, in reality, we are only hurting ourselves! And just as a person would not get angry at one part or another of his body and injure it, so we, too, will avoid injuring any member of our own body politic.

The term "Sinat Chinam," I suggest, translates literally to ""hatred of another’s "chen." "Chen" is a delicious Hebrew word that essentially refers to that intangible quality of one’s nature which is special and endearing. The trendy, widespread call to counter baseless hatred with unconditional love is well-intentioned, but flawed. We are not called upon to love everything in this world; sometimes hate is not only acceptable, but mandated: we should hate the scourge of terrorism and strenuously fight it; we should hate the act of shaming and punish it; we should hate prejudice and misogyny and corruption and root it out.

But our spontaneous, knee-jerk reaction to the people around us should be love.

Tisha B’Av is unique in that it has the dual quality of being both a somber fast day as well as a future Mo’ed, a festive day of celebration. That day will come when we all instinctively embrace one another and acknowledge "the other’s" status as a Tzelem Elokim, an image of God equal to our own. That kind of love, the Fab Four were preaching, can mean the difference between black and white, and truly is all we need.
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