Bezalel Naor

Parashat Vayyigash

The Psychology of the “Yitsra de-Sin’at Hinam

Part 1

We read in this week’s Torah portion of the rapprochement between feuding brothers, specifically Joseph and Judah. This theme is reflected in the Haftarah, the reading from the Prophets, which is designed to act as a mirror image of the Pentateuchal reading.[1]

By the time of the Prophet Ezekiel, the nation of Israel had been divided into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Israel (or Joseph) in the North, and the Kingdom of Judah in the South. Ezekiel is commanded by God to perform a symbolic act (referred to in Nahmanidean terminology as a “po’al dimyoni”). He is to take two sticks. Upon one he is to write: “For Judah.” Upon the other he must write: “For Joseph.” He is then to bind the two sticks together as one. This is to symbolize that the Lord will reunite Joseph and Judah.

When the children of your people will say to you, Will you not tell us what these are to you? Speak to them,

Thus said the Lord, Behold I am taking the Tree of Joseph…and the tribes of Israel, his companions, and

placing them together with the Tree of Judah, and I shall make them into one tree, and they shall be one in

my hand.[2]

The brothers’ sin of selling Joseph into slavery was so grievous that one of the great teachers of Torah who perished in the Holocaust, Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman (Rosh Yeshivah of Baranovich), opined that the blood libels brought against the Jews throughout the centuries were divine retribution for the nation’s collective guilt in having sold the righteous Joseph!

Unfortunately, the Satan of sin’at hinam (literally, “free hatred”), senseless hatred and infighting between members of our own people, still dances among us. How does one eradicate this bane?

The Talmud tells us that the First Temple was destroyed on account of the three cardinal sins rampant during the First Temple era: idolatry, sexual immorality and murder. The Second Temple on the other hand, was destroyed due to the sin of sin’at hinam, internal hatred of Jew for Jew.[3]

Rav Kook is famous for having said that the corrective to sin’at hinam (“free hatred”) is ahavat hinam (“free love”). Just as the Temple was destroyed on account of senseless hatred, so it will be rebuilt by the power of senseless love that one Jew has for another.

Rabbi Kook had a dear friend, a fellow Lithuanian kabbalist by the name of Rabbi Pinhas Hakohen Lintop (Rabbi of Birzh or Birzai, Lithuania). Rabbi Lintop had a different idea how we might solve the ongoing problem of sin’at hinam.

According to the Talmud, at the very onset of the Second Temple, a Great Assembly was convened to abolish the yitsra de-‘avodah zarah, the drive for idolatry. The Men of the Great Assembly knew that it would be pointless to erect a Second Temple as long as the compulsion for idolatry was yet intact. As long as Jews were yet drawn to idolatry, it was a foregone conclusion that this new temple would suffer the same fate as its predecessor. So the Anshei Knesset ha-Gedolah (the Men of the Great Assembly) came together and through their power of prayer, abolished the entire phenomenon of idolatry.[4]

Rabbi Lintop reasoned that what is required in our own day—so that we may rebuild the Temple—is to once again convene a Knesset ha-Gedolah, a Great Assembly, this time to abolish the yitsra de-sin’at hinam, the driving compulsion for senseless, irrational hatred so rampant among us.

In fact, Rabbi Lintop hoped that the Knessiyah ha-Gedolah of the World Agudath Israel movement, convened in Vienna in the month of Ellul, 5683 (1923), would be the golden opportunity for doing away with infighting, once and for all. To this end, he wrote an address to that great congress, in which he outlined his plan. He requested of Rabbi Hayyim Ozer Grodzenski of Vilna, the acknowledged leader of the generation, that he read the address from the podium!

Needless to say, Rabbi Lintop was sorely disappointed when the Knessiyah ha-Gedolah, despite its truly remarkable achievement in unifying disparate elements of the Jewish People—hasidim and mitnagdim, Hirschians from Frankfurt and Mussarites from Slabodka, et cetera—failed to live up to the potential that the visionary expected of it

Perhaps the saddest commentary on the failure of the Knessiyah Gedolah was the fact that at the convention itself, abuse was heaped upon Rav Kook of Jerusalem, Rabbi Lintop’s dearest friend and soul “brother.” For that reason, the saintly Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen (author Hafets Hayyim), felt forced to walk out of the convention in demonstrative protest, locking himself away in his hotel room, awaiting his return to Radin.

We need to discuss the psychology (and perhaps also the neurology) of the “yitsra de-‘avodah zarah” and the “yitsra de-sin’at hinam” (to adopt Rabbi Lintop’s felicitous term) …

(To be continued)



[1] See Maimonides, MT, Hil. Tefillah 13:3.

[2] Ezekiel 37:18-19.

[3] TB, Yoma 9b.

[4] TB, Yoma 69b; Sanhedrin 64a.

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