I am going to start by saying something kind of controversial. Despite what you may have been told, what you might believe, it is okay to hate. This sounds strange coming from a rabbi, right? Well there is a Jewish way to hate, and no, I’m not talking about guilt. It is okay to hate racism.
In Psalm 97, we are taught, in command form, “Ohavei Adonai, sinu ra. You who love God, hate evil.” There are few evils worse than racism, and racism is a mere stepping stone to those other evils. So yes, let us hate evil and hate racism with all our hearts.
Now I want to be clear, when I talk about hating racism, I am talking talking about hating ideas, not the people who hold them. Admittedly, it is hard to differentiate between them, but we have to. There are restrictions and limitations to permissible hate. Defeating an idea allows us to maintain our humanity when the battle is won. If our goal is to defeat people, it causes us to push for complete humiliation of the opponent. It takes us too far down a dangerous road which can elicit the worst parts of our own humanity which we have to keep in check. It is important to offer the opportunity for every person to lose with dignity. To brag, or belittle, or intimidate, or dominate another in defeat is antithetical to Jewish ideals. Even if our opposition has behaved in such a manner, we are prohibited from doing the same.
We find instruction in the Torah laws of engagement which demand that, in war, the Israelites maybnever completely surround a city, thus offering a chance for citizens to retreat (Hilchot Melachim 6:7). Even our enemies deserve a chance at continued life, during which we hope they will re-evaluate their ideas. Additionally, Jewish law permits us to do only the minimal amount it takes to win. Maimonides teaches further in the Mishnah Torah (Hilchot Melachim 9:4) teaches about self defense against one who follows you to do harm. If one can stop an attacker by just injuring his leg, but one goes ahead and kills him, then that is tantamount to murder. The law is there to curb our inclination for blood thirst and total subjugation of another. Once the aggression has ended, we move on. So if we are able to defeat an idea, we can leave what’s left of the person intact. We can move on in peace, causing no undue harm to an already damaged person. That is the just way. That is the Jewish way. So let us set our sights on defeating the ills of hatred and racism, not to squash the haters and the racists. Who knows, they may one day become repentant and turn into strong allies. Our congregation knows this history personally with Larry Trapp, who died repentant for the harm he caused as a Klansman. It is also evident in the Nate Phelps, son of the the deceased Fred Phelps, whose Westboro Baptist Church once protested our Temple. Nate left his father’s church to become an outspoken advocate against his father’s wretched ideals and for LGBT rights. Complete humiliation or annihilation of people might have prevented these people from turning around so they could have s chance to reach more and bring them to a path of truth.
There is no singular way to deal with the forces of hate and racism, but we have no choice but to combat them. Racism fills our world with darkness. Clouds of hate envelope us, but again, we can turn to Psalm 97. Soon after the command to hate evil, we are told, “Or Zarua latzadik, ulyishrei lev simcha. Light is sown for the righteous, radiance for the upright.” So if we, in righteousness hate evil, not only can we defeat it, we bring light into the world. If it sounds easy, it shouldn’t. If it sounds overly simplistic, it is not. You see, the Torah speaks very little about feelings. It is mostly about actions. That’s what our form of hate needs to be. If we allow hate to be merely a a feeling, it can become all consuming and overwhelm us. It can reduce us to tired and bitter recluses who lose sight of the greater goal, to live in peace and love. So the command to hate that we hear from the Psalmist, does not allow us to become embroiled in anger. Sitting back, embittered in our rightness and bathing in cynicism achieves absolutely nothing. The directive in Psalm 97 is compelling us to take acton.
Consider for a moment what our tradition teaches about the opposite of hate– love. It’s so much more than a feeling. Love is action. We are taught to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our being. We show love for God when we lie down, when we rise up, when we walk by the way (Deuteronomy 6:5-7). We learn from this that feeling love is not enough. It can fill our hearts, it can even overflow. However when love is not expressed, whether it be love of a spouse, love of a child, love of a friend, love of our earth, love, as a mere feeling, can only be unrequited because the object of that love receives no benefit. That kind of love is pointless. And thus, the same can be said of hate. If we do nothing about it, it is like poison inside of us, harming only us who bear it.
I looked at today a passage of Leviticus, and understood it like I have never understood it before. It’s in chapter 19 verse 17), part of the holiness code. It teaches, “Do not hate your kinsman in your heart. Reprove your kinsman, but incur no guilt because of him.”
Wow. Hating in your heart. That’ resentment. Reproving. That’s action. Incurring no guilt, that is actively taking down repulsive ideas, without, as Rashi says, “bringing him embarrassment,” degradation, or undue harm.
This is where we begin. It does not matter who you voted for. The election is done. But we combat the hate-filled rhetoric which filled the campaign. We trust that there will indeed be policies which are good for America. But, that which is distasteful, we clear our voices and raise them up as loud, and as often as possible. I attended a rally on the campus of UNL today, and suffice it to say, there are a lot of people, gay, white, black, asian, native american, Latino, Jewish, Muslim, who are genuinely frightened for the uncertain future because the only things they know to be true are the words which have been spoken and the policies which have been proposed. Those fears deserve to be taken seriously.
Since November 8, I have had some fascinating conversations that have given me some hope. I have found people on both sides of the aisle who genuinely care about some of the same issues as I do. Some really care for LGBT rights. As those issues arise, we can join together with anyone willing to lend their support and knock down those ideas. I have found others who actually care about a woman’s right to choose. So we seek our allies, and knock it down. There are people on both sides who do not support the Muslim registry, so again, we work together to knock that down. Whatever the issue, we hate the ideas and we accept any ally, regardless of their vote or political leaning to reject those ideas we hold so dear.
Most pressing right now is how we address the formation of the new Presidential administration. Many of us have made a mistake by describing individuals themselves as white Nationalists and anti-semites. While it may be true, we cannot definitively prove either statement. What is quantifiable however is the presence of at least one adviser, who in his own words, provided a platform for the alt right, which is a euphemism for white nationalists, which is another word for Nazis and Klansmen.
Another way to look at this is to consider a great enemy of the Jewish people we read about in Exodus. The terrible Amalek attacked the most vulnerable Israelites from behind just as they were leaving slavery in Egypt. And we are to be at war with Amalek throughout the ages. A midrash (cited by Rashi on Deu 25:18) explains why Amalek is so hated. It was not that he attacked the Israelites. The rabbis believed that with God’s help, they could not be defeated. What Amalek did by attacking was to make it appear that other nations, who would otherwise know better, could do the same. And so Amalek’s sin was to open the floodgates for other nations to attack as well. So let us be cautious with our comparisons. We are not talking about Hitler, or even Goebbels. We are talking about a modern day Amalek, giving voice to racism and senseless hate, making it mainstream, and giving the appearance that others may do the same.
Again, it does not matter who you voted for. As Jews, we have to speak out against the forces of hate, by hating them in return, not in our hearts, but with our words and our deeds. We need to appeal to our elected leaders and tell them this is not ok. We need to call upon our president elect not to allow policies to be shaped by people whose presence instills fear in large groups of American communities.
That is not the world we want to live in, and hand to our children, so it is incumbent upon us to reprove our fellow citizens, to show them the positive force of hate, as we demolish destructive ideals, and set our fellow kinsmen on the path of right. We must hate evil, because that part of loving God.
Chazak ve’ematz. May we be strong and of good courage so that we may stand up for justice in the coming days.