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Parshas Mattos-Massei

Freeing Ourselves of Sinas Chinam
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

The reading of the parshiyos of Matos and Masei always coincides with the Three Weeks. During the Three Weeks we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and reflect on why we suffered this tragedy. Chazal (the Sages) teach that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam, gratuitous or baseless hatred (Yoma 9b). Seemingly innocuous and benign, the Gemara explains that sinas chinam is comparable to committing all of the three cardinal sins - idolatry, adultery and murder.

We learn the dangers of hatred in this week's parsha through a halacha which is applied differently when hatred is involved. The halacha states that someone who kills accidentally is exiled to an ir miklat, city of refuge. The sin of taking a life is so grave that even when it comes about inadvertently, it still requires a kapara (atonement). The ir miklat also provides asylum. While there, the perpetrator is protected from the go'eil hadam (redeemer of the blood), a relative seeking to avenge the victim's blood. Should he venture out of the ir miklat, the go'eil hadam has the right to kill him. However the ir miklat does not protect everyone who kills accidentally. If the perpetrator and the victim were enemies, the ir miklat will not provide refuge. The Gemara (Makkos 7b) derives this from the passuk "...b'lo eiva...." without enmity (Bamidbar, 35:22).

If the perpetrator hates his victim, it is assumed that he committed the murder intentionally or at best, with gross negligence and made it appear to be accidental. Therefore galus, exile to an ir miklat is insufficient to atone for his sin. Moreover, it is apparent from the Mishna (ibid, 9b) that even if we can ascertain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the victim was killed accidentally, nevertheless the perpetrator cannot be admitted to the ir miklat. Why is his sin considered so severe that he cannot atone for it by residing in exile?

The Reshash explains that the Torah only considers an act accidental if one would have refrained from it had he known it was forbidden. The only reason why he did not obey the law was because of a lack of knowledge. For example, it is considered an accident if one who forgot it was Shabbos transgresses one of the thirty-nine avos melachos, forbidden activities of Shabbos. However, if he knew that the Torah forbade the act, but he would have done it anyway, it is not a shogeig, inadvertent act, (see Shabbos 69a; Chullin 5b). Similarly a person who kills someone he hates, even by accident, does not feel remorse for the loss of life, and therefore is not considered a shogeig. It is a sobering thought that in regard to this halacha, the Rambam writes that a sonei (enemy) is someone who does not talk to a fellow Jew for three days out of enmity (Hilchos Rotzeach 6:10).

If we truly yearn for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, we must demonstrate our commitment to strengthen Ahavas Yisrael, love of our fellow Jew and show our resolve to eradicate sinas chinam from our midst. As the Chafetz Chaim writes: "If Hashem destroyed the Beis Hamikdash because of sinas chinam (and lashon hara), all the more so He will not rebuild it if we do not free ourselves of this terrible malady."

David Hamelech said: "For the sake of my brothers and friends, I shall speak of peace in Your midst (Tehillim 122:4)". Rabbeinu Bachya explains that there are two types of love. One is the love of family, the love of a father for a son, of two brothers, and between spouses. The other type of love is when two people share common interests and goals. Even though there are no blood ties, if they constantly associate with each other and pursue ongoing or similar interests, they create a bond. All Jews enjoy both these relationships. Hashem is our Father and we are all His children. We are therefore all brothers sharing a familial love. We also have a common cause. We are a nation of Torah and we all share the goal of observing Hashem's Torah and sanctifying His name.

One reason we dislike others is because of jealousy. We envy their success, wealth, happiness and prosperity. When such emotions arise, we need to make an effort to feel out familial bond. We are all truly branches of the same tree. When we internalise this feeling, jealousy dissipates, and instead we can rejoice in the success of our fellow Jew just as we take pleasure in the successes of our own children and siblings.

Another cause of sinas chinam is difference of opinion and different ways of serving Hashem. There are many sects in Judaism and there are people who are at different levels of serving Hashem. We like to believe that ours is the optimal level of observance. Anyone more observant is viewed as fanatical and one who is not as meticulous is seen as a secular Jew. Yes - we must cling to our traditions, but at the same time, we must realise that there are other valid traditions. There are many paths to serving the Creator. Everyone must continually strive to grow closer to Him. We must realise each and every one of us has his unique challenges and we should not judge others until we are in their place (Avos). Most of all we need to focus more on what we have in common with our brethren. We all received the Torah at Har Sinai. Together we declared Na'aseh V'Nishma - we will do and we will listen. We all strive, in our own ways to keep the Torah. Despite all our years in galus, and being dispersed to the Four Corners of the globe, we still learn the same Torah and we all share the same desire for the day when we will be returned to Yerushalayim where we will serve Hashem together in the Beis Hamikdash. May it be speedily in our days.

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