Religion without love is a recipe for disaster

The message at the heart of this weekend’s fast of Tishah b’Av

By Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz, July 27, 2012
The Roman Destruction of the Second Temple by Francesco Hayez (painted 1867)

The Roman Destruction of the Second Temple by Francesco Hayez (painted 1867)

Rav Kook, the Chief Rabbi of pre-state Isarel, once wrote “If we together with the entire world were to be destroyed due to unfounded hatred, then we must reconstruct ourselves and the entire world with unfounded love”. Indeed the Talmud teaches that the Temple was destroyed due to unfounded hatred, sinat chinam; despite that generation’s great level of Torah study and observance of other crucial precepts something within was rotten and decayed (Yoma 9b).

In explanation of this apparent contradiction, we need not stray far at all. The same superficiality and shallowness, alas, has crept into the lives of so many within our community. The label of one’s coat is more important to many than the warmth that coat may or may not provide.

Where we live and which school our children attend is often calculated by what people will think and the external impression this will make rather than the suitability of the home and place of residence or the appropriateness of a school and its compatibility with the needs of our children. Even the shul we attend is often chosen based on considerations of acceptability and impression made rather than inspiration and spiritual elevation.

Externally, we may seem to be doing everything right, but the Almighty sees within our hearts, teaches Rav Kook; it is love from within the heart that has the power to rebuild and correct our wrongs.

A powerful talmudic text, in Sanhedrin 106b, conveys this very idea. In a country where rain is sparse, Israel often finds itself facing drought. In response to such a situation, the rabbis would — and this is true to this day — call for a fast day, a day of prayer and introspection. In the days of Rav Yehudah, we are taught that drought was unheard of, despite the generation being less educated in Torah than later generations. For all it took was for the sage Rav Yehudah leading the congregation to remove his shoes and it would rain. Later generations failed to have the same impact on heaven despite all their prayers. The Talmud asks why, and answers “Hakadosh Baruch Hu liba baei”, “the Holy One wants our hearts”.

In previous generations many Jews simply did not have the same educational opportunities we so take for granted. Poverty was common and with it there was not only a lack of educational facilities but also the funds required to pay for them. Yet if their faith was unsophisticated, it was pure and sincere for it came from the heart. Yet this pure love of the heart alone does not suffice; it must stem from, indeed start, with intellectual inquiry, Rav Kook emphasises.

This pure and deep-rooted love, which is to emanate from the very soul, Rav Kook referred to when he wrote, addressing the Jewish nation: “I speak to you from my soul, from within my innermost soul I call out to you from the vital bond that binds me to you and through which you are bound to me… I must connect to all of your souls, I must love you all limitlessly” (Shemonah Kevatzim 1:162).

The love of God and the love of man are intrinsically connected. The one cannot be complete without the other and the one is deficient without the other. Both are fundamentals whose roots are to be found within the heart, soul and intellect.

The generation of the destruction, according to our sages, had the intellect but what they lacked — and what brings in its wake baseless hatred — is when observance has no heart, no love. No love of their fellow and, as a result, no love of God.

The Netziv, Rav Naphtali Yehudah Tzvi Berlin, in his introduction to his commentary on the book of Bereshit, says that despite that generation’s superior Torah knowledge and observance, they brought about the destruction of the Temple. “Therefore due to the unfounded hatred in their hearts they suspected each other of evil behaviour when they saw one not conducting himself the same way they thought it should be done in the ways of the fear of God and they branded them tzedukim [Sadducees, deniers of the Oral Law] and non-believers”. He goes on to say that God “hates righteous people such as these”.

In the eyes of Netziv, as well as Rav Kook the love and tolerance of our fellow-Jew must go alongside the fear and love of God. One is incomplete without the other and leads to destruction and distance from the Almighty.
For the Almighty liba baei, wants our hearts, our love as well as our intellect and observance. Our love for Him, yes. But our love of our fellow-man, we are taught, is equally as important.

Chaim Kanterovitz is rabbi of the Yeshurun Hebrew Congregation, Cheadle, Cheshire

Last updated: 10:59am, July 27 2012