Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

The Price of Hate

Many of us have heard by now about last week’s Olympic farce, which occurred after Israeli judoka Or Sasson defeated in the second round his Egyptian counterpart Islam el Shehaby, en route to winning the bronze medal for Israel. It is customary in judo for the athletes to respectfully bow to each other with a slight nod of the head at the conclusion of the match, and often also shake hands.

However, this time, at the end of the match, the Egyptian competitor, an ultraconservative Sufi Muslim, adamantly refused to shake the Israeli’s hand, and even avoided eye contact with him. It was a surreal scene to behold; the Israeli frantically walking around the arena constantly re-offering an outstretched hand to his competitor, with the Egyptian constantly moving around in order to avoid him. The event received worldwide publicity, and the Egyptian was globally criticized for failing to adhere to the ethical protocol, and conduct himself in a manner congruent with the ambiance and spirit of the Olympic code.

Moreover, all over the printed and digital press, millions of people throughout the world saw one very telling snapshot picture of this farcical event, a photo which conveyed the gist of the entire occurrence.

In many ways, this photo captures the story of the better part of over a century and a third of the Arab-Israeli conflict over the Promised Land. From Israel’s very inception, in 1948, the Arab hand refused to accept the Zionist hand which was constantly gestured forward for dialogue and reconciliation. Israel continued to offer its hand before and after the Six-Day War. But with the notable exception of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan, this hand was never truly shaken with true sincerity and genuine good faith.

Sordidly enough, to this day, even so-called moderate Abu Mazen, President of the Palestinian Authority, categorically refuses to verbally acknowledge the legitimacy of the existence of Israel as ”A Jewish State”. Abu Mazen won’t even agree to articulate these words.

In the Bible, there is a verse in Psalm 120 which aptly and succinctly captures the gist of this tragic historical dynamic.  The verse reads as follows: ”Ani Shalom ve hee adaber hema la mil hama”, which means – ”I gesture for peace, and yet they continue to wage war”. How tragically contemporary and geo-politically current in the second decade of the 21st century are these words written and articulated by King David millennia ago.

While this is all true and valid with regard to our national predicament as Jews and for the Jewish state as a veritable enclave of civility and progress in the Middle East, these words also carry a crucial and imperative message for all of us as individuals as well.

On a personal level too, we should all be Israel. Let us strive and endeavour to try and be the bigger person even when faced with highly unpleasant individuals. True, it is very hard, and we can’t always succeed, but try we should, for it is the Jewish thing to do. Wherever we confront hostility, malice and vengeful toxicity, be it in the extended family, our social circles, or work environment, let us attempt to remain cordial and proper, and not reject a hand stretched out towards us, if it is truly offered with real sincerity and genuine good will.

True, there are always these exceptional cases in which an offense was so egregious such that no further interaction is really warranted and appropriate, but such instances are somewhat rare and far and few in between.

And finally, let us internalize the invaluable truth that hate, more than it afflicts and smites the hated, pollutes and stains the heart and soul of the hater with toxicity, wrath and embitterment.

Incessant and obsessive hate, G-d forbid, can rob us of invaluable resources, time and energy that we would be much better spent and exerted, focusing on worthier things and individuals.

And so, as we are but seven Shabbats away from Rosh Hashanah and our annual spiritual and ethical bookkeeping, let us endeavour to accept a hand stretched out towards us with good will, once it is truly offered to us, both symbolically and physically.

And just as importantly, let us offload from our midst the poisonous venom of hate, such that we can cleanse ourselves of its infectious and destructive ramifications for the self. Let us do so for our own benefit, for the benefit of those we hold dearly, and for the benefit of the world around us. For every diminished form of hate further divests our world of malice, and fills it instead with love, hope, and G-d’s eternal and infinite light.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sessler

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