By Rabbi Wendy Pein
Regardless of the outcome of this latest electoral cycle, there is much concern that the political process has resulted in significant antagonism and even hatred being expressed between opposing sides. Jewish wisdom has much to say on this topic and provides clear guidance in such circumstances that we would do well to consider. In a straight-forward directive, the Torah commands us, “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart” (Lev. 19:17). Lest we think that the commandment refers to only specific acts of hate, our Sages have made sure to elaborate that this verse applies both to observable actions of hate, and our internal emotions. The Sages taught that, “in your heart,” (Lev. 19:17) meant that we should eradicate feelings of hatred for our brother, our neighbor, our friend as such feelings may lead to hateful actions (B. Talmud Arakhin 16b). Instead, we are taught to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
Recent studies show that the number of households who would be upset if their child chose a partner from a different political party has risen in recent years. This is an opportune time to recall the ancient disagreements between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, two Jewish schools of thought who often held fiercely opposing views on Jewish legal matters. The Talmud teaches us that no matter how factious their disagreements, the two Houses did not refrain from their children marrying from among each other’s communities (B. Talmud Yebamot 14a-b). Instead, they continued to practice love and affection for one another.
Whereas stories in the Torah demonstrate that simmering hatred leads to destructive behavior, such as Cain rising up against Abel, Esau’s fury at Jacob, and Korah’s jealousy of Moses, it also provides an example of two brothers who overcome their enmity for each other and reconcile. After Jacob steals Esau’s birthright, the two brothers live physically and emotionally separate lives for over fourteen years. Eventually, Jacob decides to return to Canaan with his household. When Jacob saw Esau coming and his army approaching, he did not reject him and turn his back, but instead “He… bowed low to the ground seven times until he was near his brother.” (Genesis 33: 1 -3). Jacob found the strength and courage to reconcile with Esau because he had removed any hatred of Esau from his heart. For the Torah states that despite their former animosity, Jacob recognizes Esau as “his brother.” When Jacob does so, the brothers embrace and reconcile. What an instructive model for us as we seek to strengthen our relationships with those whom we have disagreed during this election time.
Our Sages teach us that “hatred of others shortens a person’s life.” (Avot 2:11) and that such hatred is demonstrated by loving one group and hating another (Avot d’Rabbi Natan 16). Instead, we are commanded to love both groups, all of humanity. This begins by recognizing one another as kin, friends and neighbors, irrespective of our positions on issues or how we voted.
Rabbi Wendy Pein is the Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Israel of Northern Westchester in Croton-on-the Hudson, New York. As an educator, she loves to show how Judaism can bring meaning and beauty to our modern lives.