The Jewish calendar is filled with celebrations, but it also challenges us to face our sorrows and shortcomings. June 27 begins this year’s Fast of Tammuz and Bein haMetzari (which means “the three weeks”). These dates memorialize the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans, and the subsequent destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem on Tish B’Av (that’s the 9th of the month of Av, corresponding to July 17-18).
Words can hardly describe the abject horror that befell Israel when the Temple was so utterly destroyed. It was as if the heart of the people were ripped out of our collective chest. Our identity as God’s chosen people was cast into doubt and our future as a nation called into question. Among religious Jewish people, this event is grieved as the worst tragedy ever, one that is recalled with intense mourning, lengthy fasting, and deep repentance.
A little-known rabbinic teaching says that Israel had committed a particular sin that led to this tragedy, a sin known as “hatred without a cause.” You see, there was such deep division between the Jewish people at the time, such rancor, such disunity and open hostility toward one another, that the ancient rabbis taught that we brought this tragedy on ourselves. In other words, hating one another without cause led to the destruction of our greatest national treasure—the very institution believed to have held us together as a people.
I may be stepping on some toes, but it seems to me that the rancor, disunity, and open hostility we are seeing today—even among some Christians—is not too different from that of the people of Israel in the first century. Are we, too, witnessing a time of hatred without a cause?
I’m not referring to the natural disagreements that may arise between Christians, but to the way we are tempted to react to brothers and sisters who disagree with us. I’m not referring to a hatred of sin, because we have cause to hate the way sin destroys. Rather, I mean the way our love for God’s righteousness can secretly be subverted and converted into self-righteousness and contempt.
In previous generations, tragedies like the COVID-19 pandemic could have been a cause for uniting and rallying people against the common enemy. Not this time. If anything, the tragedy of this pandemic has led to even further division, to finger pointing and name calling, and yes, “hatred without a cause.”
I don’t know where the current climate of divisiveness is leading, but I have yet to see the tragedy of COVID-19 bringing people together—and that should be very concerning to all of us in God’s family. We may be closer than we think to what the nation of Israel faced in the latter part of the first century. I’m not saying we are all guilty of hatred without a cause, but what are we doing to overcome it? Is it even possible to overcome the current climate of divisiveness and rancor? Probably not without a supernatural work of God—and I think that kind of supernatural work has to begin in our midst, as the people who claim to be His.
How to Overcome Hatred without Cause
Hatred without a cause can only be overcome by love with a purpose. Jesus came to earth as the epitome of love with a purpose, and if we want to overcome hatred, we must prioritize that purpose. When we identify with Jesus, there is no room for hostile and, yes, even hateful attitudes. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” (1 John 2:9-10). This kind of love is exactly how Jesus said His followers would be identified as belonging to Him (John 13:35).
The majority of Jewish people don’t think much about the events of AD 70. Most no longer observe the customs of mourning, fasting, and repentance over the destruction of the Temple. The Jewish nation has experienced collective amnesia—and it shows. There have been more failed efforts to form a government in Israel—more failed attempts to bring together leaders who will cooperate—than any other nation in history has experienced. Israel today suffers from a total inability to come together as a nation. Perhaps this is a mirror that we could hold up to our own current situation and political process.
What Can we Learn from Israel and the Temple’s Destruction?
Thankfully, it seems we are finding our way past the crisis of the pandemic, but will we find our way past the far greater crisis of hatred without a cause? As vaccines take effect and we begin to see this terrible pandemic in our rear-view mirror, what lessons can we learn from Israel and her many sorrows? How should we choose to remember this tragedy so that we don’t fall prey to Santayana’s famous maxim, “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history will be doomed to repeat them”?
I believe we must allow the sorrow of these days to remain with us, to shape our view of what is most important, and to mold our attitudes toward others, both believers and those who’ve yet to know Him.
The words of Paul remind us not to underestimate the value of sorrow:
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)
Jesus came to bring abundant life, and He alone can produce in us the love that overcomes hate. He stood in front of that Second Temple and declared, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The tragedy of the Savior’s death overcame the tragedy of the Temple’s destruction. Jesus died to establish love with a purpose—love that produces sorrowful repentance that leads to salvation. As we live out the gospel and make Messiah’s truth known in word and deed, may we love others with the same purpose that sent Jesus to the cross, and the same power that raised Him from the dead!