10 February 2010

Build That Bridge

The guilty pleasures of a Jewish nerd.

For many years, I have picked up Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances (The Soncino Press) from the shelf of this Jewish bookstore or that and for this reason or that have never pulled the trigger. Until recently. And so today, in a quiet moment between mediating conflict among siblings, I sat down to take in a few of its pages. Since the kids were fighting about a topic that is already forgotten, I chose to see what Rabbi Hirsch had to say about Hatred.

Quoting Leviticus 19, the Rabbi writes, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart." Good start!

He goes on to write: "Hatred is the feeling that the existence of any being is a hindrance to our own existence, and that the destruction of that being would make our own existence more complete. In other words, it means that we do not feel ourselves whole so long as this or that is still existing. This feeling is the death, nay, the complete inversion, of the human heart, which God has created for the comprehensive embrace of all beings, but which instead excludes one or all beings to the extent of desiring their non-existence, and embraces only itself--in fact, becomes a stone. As soon, therefore, as you perceive hatred springing up in your heart against any being, know for certain that you have failed to attain your proper moral level."

We know this is true. The destructive and corrosive force of hatred, unleashed, prevents us from aiming higher in our aspirations.

But unlike a book, this is the guilty pleasure of hatred. The endorphin rush; the manic rant; they feel so good but what do they really get you? In war it leaves a scarred landscape, literally littered with corpses; in homes, psychological and, God forbid, physical scars; in our own hearts and minds, a limiting capacity to grow which in turn plants deeper roots and bears more bitter fruit.

It's such a terrible dilemma. But the Torah is here speaking a language of truth that is one of its most profound warnings to us:

"Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart."

A heart that only embraces itself becomes a stone.

What a notion! For the chambers of the heart to beat a regenerative rhythm, there must be another to share the effort of its requisite regeneration. The partnership itself is the antithesis of hate.

Many of us have had that heart of stone and have known its loneliness. The journey forward is with God or another. A simple equation that for some is like an abyss to bridge.

But oh how we need to build that bridge. Always.

1 comment:

Old First said...

Andy, you (and Hirsch) taught me today.