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Love and Hate: A Torah Perspective by Rabbi Yochanan Zweig and Joseph R. Rackman
Love and Hate: A Torah Perspective by Rabbi Yochanan Zweig and Joseph R. Rackman

Volume 4 , Issue 3

Love and hate seem to be opposite emotions. Why, then, does it often happen that a loving child, in the heat of a tantrum, screams out that he hates his parents? Why is it that love so often turns to hate? If these two emotions are truly opposite, one would not expect love and hate to be so readily interchangeable. To begin our discussion, however, the scope of the problem will be fleshed out with five specific questions.

What was the sin of Rabbi Akiva's students?

The omer period, when we count the days between Passover and Shavuot, is a period of mourning for the Jewish people. During this period, in the century following the destruction of the Second Temple, many Jewish scholars died in a period of only a few weeks.' The rabbis attributed this misfortune to the failure of the rabbis to conduct themselves properly with each other.2

First, why did the scholars die specifically during the omer period? As a deliberate divine sanction, God's timing of the punishment must be presumed to have a didactic purpose. Second, the students who died were all disciples of the great Rabbi Akiva, whose motto was, ?Love your neighbor as yourself.?3 That these very students were deficient in their relationships with each other is difficult to understand.

Why was Israel destroyed for failing to say the blessing? over studying Torah?

Equally problematic is the Talmudic statement that the reason the land of Israel was destroyed (for the second time) was that the Rabbis did not say the groper blessing when they studied Torah. This blessing is the one said before the study of Torah, in contradistinction to the blessings recited before and after the public reading from the Torah in synagogue. This appears to be a rather serious consequence for a seemingly minor infraction.

Even more difficult to understand is why the scholars failed to say the blessing in the first place. The effort it takes to say the blessing is so negligible that it seems almost unimaginable that scholars would not have taken the ten seconds to recite the blessing over Torah study. One can presume that people of the era were diligent in observing other commandments or else those deficiencies of the citizens and rabbis of the era would also have been singled out as a cause of Israel's destruction.

Were the Jews festive or trembling at Mount Sinai?

Seemingly off the topic (but not), is the apparent contradictory report in the Bible concerning the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. In Exodus (Chapter 19), the people prepared to receive the Torah by separating from their wives and by demarcating clear boundaries upon the mountain beyond which the people could not go on pain of death. There were thunder and lightning with a loud blast of the shofar (the ram's horn). The people are described as trembling. Even the mountain ?trembled violently?. (Exodus 19:18)

Yet five chapters later, a completely different mood is conveyed. Exodus 24 describes the atmosphere during the giving of the Ten Commandments as festive. The public partook of sacrifices which had been brought.6 Some of the leading Israelites went partially up the mountain and ?they saw a vision of God?. (24:10)

The question is obvious: Was the feeling of the Israelites, upon the giving of the Torah, one of fear or celebration? This question is not merely aimed at reconstructing the events of that day. The Bible is not a history textbook. It is trying to tell us how to properly relate to God. Yet, in the encountering of God on Mount Sinai we are told, in one place, that the Jews were festive and, in another, that they were trembling. How are we to behave when encountering God? Are we to be festive or trembling? Are we to love Him or fear Him? Or are we to both love and fear Him simultaneously? And if we arc, how does one love and fear at the same time?

Are we to ?lust? after the Torah or be fearful of it?

We all hope that we have a chafetz (lust) for learning, as described in Psalms 1:2, B'torat Hashem cheftzah.7 And yet the Talmud (Berachot 22a) tells us that we are to study Torah in the manner that it was given at Mount Sinai, with fear and trembling. So, we may conclude, that in connection with the study of Torah, we are told to ?love? it, to even ?lust? after it, and yet we are to study with ?fear and trembling?. This appears to be a totally contradictory directive.

Why is a misreading praised?

King Solomon describes himself in Song of Songs (2:4) as ?enveloped in love? when (as the rabbis explained) he was studying Torah.8 The Midrash expounds on this verse and describes two students reading a famous verse from the Bible, ?Love one's neighbor like yourself.?9 (The key words, to love, in Hebrew is vahavta.) While one student reads it this way, the other student reads that same word, making a slight change in one vowel, as voyavtah, to hate. The Midrash continues, saying that God approves of both versions. ?Since they are both trying to derive the truth, as it is written in Song of Songs, and 'I will envelope them in love.'?

Yet the student who is reading the verse as ?to hate? is clearly misreading the text. Why is this misreading praised?

The Answers

The starting point for our answers comes from realizing that there is, from a Torah perspective, proper and improper hate.1? Maimonides, in his Mishnah Torah, discusses the obligation of a person to relieve an animal that is overburdened and, if one encounters two overburdened animals at the same time, one of a friend and one of an enemy, Maimonides tells us that we are obligated to unload the enemy's animal first, in order to subdue our evil impulse. 11 Maimonides further asks how a Jew can have an enemy, for it is written ?Do not hate your brother in your heart? (Lev. 19:17)? The answer is that ?the Sages decreed that if one all alone sees another committing a crime and warns him against it and he does not desist, one is obligated to hate him until he repents and leaves his evil ways.?12

According to Maimonides, proper hate is motivated by a true concern for the other person's soul (and for God's ends). Hatred is permitted when the goal is to improve another person. This is not hatred in our common usage of the term. In Judaism, hatred is a means towards a proper end, the improvement of a fellow Jew. In that case, to hate is but another manifestation of love. This explains why the student who misread vahavta, to love,as voyavta, to nate, was praised.

Unfortunately, proper hate is a rare phenomenon. Most hatred is selfish, reflecting the frustrations of the person. Almost always, our hatred manifests our own needs for self-justification and our self-centeredness. It is this type of hatred that we normally deal with and which will be the focus of the remainder of this article.

People have love and (improper) hate relationships with the same person. This occurs in most families. Yet, though we all know that this is so, it seems baffling. The emotions of love and hate seem to be atopposite ends of the spectrum. The reality is, however, that there is only a very thin line between love and hate. People constantly jump back and forth between these emotions. So, we must ask, what is a love/hate relationship?

Loving and hating are the same emotion

Loving and hating someone is an expression of the same fundamental type of relationship. Loving someone means a desire to merge (emotionally) into another. Hating someone is a similar desire to merge, while at the same time preserving your identity. An improper hate situation is akin, in the corporate world, to a hostile takeover. With enemies and loved ones, you want the same thing: you want two entities to become one. In a love relationship, you are trying to gain a merged and new identity of yourself and your loved one. In an improper hate relationship, you are trying to take over your enemy. The hate/merger is an attempt to dominate the other, which is, in reality, a way of rejecting the other.

A parent wishes to mold a child, but that desire becomes a tragedy when the parent tries to take over the child entirely instead of letting the child's own individual characteristics emerge. This explains why young children are so often confused in their relationships with their parents. They want guidance (to be able to grow on their own) and yet the parents seem to be pushing them towards something that the child does not feel comfortable with. And so the child, in his confusion, crosses back and forth between feelings of love and hate.

So how does one guarantee that a relationship will be one of love and not hate? The answer is that the relationship between two people must be built on respect. That means that one must give the object of the love its space. If we deal with our children as something outside ourselves, as separate entities deserving respect, then we can truly love our children. If that respect is lacking, then we will wind up taking over our children and attempting to mold them into our own identities, and this precludes truly loving our children.

All relationships start at a distance and ideally begin with respect. But when love increases and the distance between the two people decreases, there is the risk that the respect for each other will diminish. And when the result is love without respect, you really do not have love at all, but arelationship of enmity. In a marriage, the same problem occurs often. As a marriage increases in length, unfortunately, so does (sometimes) the yelling at each other. Familiarity results in a taking for granted of each other and a lack of mutual respect.

Love is only maintained as true love if there is respect at the same time. This is true in one's relationship with one's parents, but especially so withone's relationship to God. There is the God that one uses as a tool to feel good, the God of the ?me generation? ? this love of God, without fear of Him, is a self-centered love. God can be used to make one feel good about one's self; in that case, God is used for man's purpose and not the reverse. Man is taking hold of the God concept for his own purposes, to feel good.

The Mood at Mount Sinai ? Both Festivities and Trembling

So we see that God is not there to only make us feel good. We are also to fear Him, lest our service to God become perverted into a self-centered relationship.

This explains the two emotions prevalent at Mount Sinai. There was both love and fear, lest the former without the latter degenerate into a form of self indulgence.

We are to both ?lust? after and be fearful of Torah

This necessity to love and fear God at the same time is the reason why the Psalms tells us to have a chafetz for Torah and the Talmud teaches us to study with fear and trembling. All of these emotions must be present if we are to study Torah properly.

Earlier we noted that the students of Rabbi Akiva did not conduct themselves with respect for each other. And while these were students who were disciples of Rabbi Akiva and their motto was to ?love your neighbor as yourself' and love permeated the atmosphere, there was clearly a lack of respect for one another. And if one does not respect one's fellow man, one does not really respect God either. Not to have respect for His creations is not to have respect for Him. In the period when we count the days from Passover to the giving of the Torah, we must be filled not only with love, but respect for God. It is during this time period that the students of Rabbi Akiva, who failed to have respect for each other (and, therefore, failed to have respect for God), were punished.

Failure to say the Blessing over the Torah ? Excessive Love

Reciting a blessing before studying Torah - declaring that one has been commanded to study - is a declaration that to merely have enjoyment from studying God's word is not enough. To study solely for your own self-fulfillment and enjoyment means that there is inadequate respect and, therefore, no true love for God and the study of His word. The failure to say the blessing is indicative of a feeling that the studies are something which ?belong? to a person, something which the person is taking over and not something one is receiving with proper love and respect.

So the failure of Rabbi Akiva's students to make the blessing over the Torah was not because these students did not have the time; it was that they loved the Torah so much that they desired to take it over. In their chafetz, their lust, they became enemies of the Torah. The failure to make the blessing, therefore, was not due to disdain, but due to excessive love. In fact, the more one loves something, the more difficult it can become to have true respect.

It is easy to be respectful in synagogue if one only goes a few times a year, but the more one loves something, the more one wants to take it over; hence, the more one must work at maintaining and showing the proper respect for synagogue and Torah.

If one loves and respects Torah, it will be elevated. But if one does not have that respect for God and merely takes Torah into one's self, for one's own purposes, for one's own self-fulfillment, then one has taken over the Torah and brought it down to a more common level. The infinite should not be reduced to finite man, but finite man should be connected, through the Torah, to the infinite.


1.                    Talmud Yevamot 62b.

2.                    ibid.

3.                    Genesis Rabah 24:7

4.                    Talmud Nedarim 81a and see the commentary of the Ran thereon.

5.                    ?Indeed, some Rabbis hold that the recitation of the blessing over Torah study is only a rabbinic mandate (drabanin)? not divinely ordained (d'orisah). According to these Rabbis, the exile from the land for the violation of a rabbinic injunction is even more problematic. (And even according to those who hold that the blessing over Torah scholarship is divinely required, the punishment seems disproportionate for what appears to be the violation of a ?minor? rule.) See Sha'agas Aryeh, Responsa 24.

6.                    Shlomim, a type of sacrifice from which the public (not just the priests) ate, were brought.

7.                    This term is also used in connection with the story of Dinah and Shechem, where chafiez is used to mean ?obsessed?. (Genesis 34:19)

8.                    Literally, the verse states that ?his banner is over me in love.?

9.                    Song of Songs, Midrash Rabah, Parsha 2; Leviticus 19:18.

10.                 Acknowledgment is made of the comments of Rabbi Emanuel Rackman which generated this por?tion of the article.

11.                 Hilchos Roseah V'shimiras Nefesh, Chap. 13, Halakha 13.

12.                 Id., Halakha 14.

Rabbi Yochanan Zweig is the Rosh Hayeshiva of the Tabnudic University of Miami Beach, Florida and was ordained at the Ner Yisrad Rabbinical College in Baltimore. Joseph Rackman is a partner in the Manhattan law firm of Squadron, Ellenoff, Plesent & Lehrer.



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