Religious Life

Eliminating Hate – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Alexander Davis – March 29, 2019

Shalom Chaverim

I get to meet some interesting people. This week, I met with a man who has made it his mission to eliminate hatred from the world.

A retired dentist, he is sickened when he looks out at the world and see events like the attack in Pittsburg and in New Zealand. And he sees it as his duty to respond. He has grand plans for a national network of small discussion groups, and a sophisticated website. But his first step is building bridges of understanding. For hate festers in a place of ignorance. Since he knows few Jews, little about Judaism and had never been in a synagogue, he decided to reach out to Beth El.

When we met, I introduced Judaism to him by sharing the well-known story about a person who came to Hillel and asked to learn everything about Judaism while he stood on one foot. Hillel responded: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary. Go study.” (Shabbat 31a)

Hillel’s answer is surprising. The Torah is not primarily about God, or rites or rituals. It is about how we treat our fellow human beings. It means identifying with and considering the needs, likes, dislikes, of another person. For the whole Torah can be boiled down to “what is hateful to you, don’t do to others.”

Phrased in the negative, Hillel’s teaching is the inverse of Jesus’s Golden Rule. (Both are a variation of the Torah’s, “love your neighbor as yourself.”) He prohibits hateful actions rather than requires positive ones. In this way, he lowers the bar just enough to make it attainable. Not everyone will put forth the effort to actively “do unto others.” But many people can avoid hating. 

Listening to the man describe his project to eliminate hate from the world, I was reminded of the first thing we saw in Atlanta on our recent civil rights tour. We went straight from the airport to the National Center for Civil Rights and Human Rights. Outside the museum, is a 70 ft waterfall that flows over glass inscribed with the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

On the one hand, the mission of this gentleman is laughable. How could he possibly eliminate all hate from the world? On the other hand, I give him a lot of credit. He is putting himself out there, taking a risk, expanding his understanding. And he is just naïve enough and committed enough to see beyond the obstacles that stand in his way. Even if he only eliminates half the hate in the world, or a quarter, or any hate in the world, or even just the hate in his heart, he will have succeeded and made Hillel proud.

Rabbi Alexander Davis