In the coming week, on August 9th, we will mark the second anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, an event that unleashed a firestorm of protest over the unequal treatment of black people by police in particular and racial inequality in the U.S. in general. We are still hearing the echoes of Ferguson in the continuing discourse about racial justice taking place in our country today. Jews know what it is like to be the targets of bigotry and hatred and to be treated unequally on that basis. So Jewish communities have a special obligation to speak up in favor of racial justice and the need to address the persistent, systemic racism that shatters lives across America as well as right here at home in Philadelphia.
As we approach Tish’ah b’Av next Saturday night, we are reminded of the ancient rabbinic teaching that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam – “causeless hatred” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 9b). What does “causeless hatred” mean when we can always come up with some justification for hating others? Rabbi Chaya Rowen Baker suggests that we reinterpret the word hinam as ha-hen shelahem – the quality of others that makes them unique. What caused the Temple to fall was when we hated the uniqueness of others, the thing that makes them different from ourselves. To combat this kind of hatred, we have to look deep inside ourselves and build up our ability to see the good in others, to value them for their difference, and to counter the impulse to reject those who are not like ourselves. Then we can replace sinat hinam with ahavat hinam – love of others for no reason other than their uniqueness as human beings, created as we are in the image of God.
May this coming week of memory, mourning, and reflection strengthen our resolve to be sources of love and advocates for justice in our community and in our country.