Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )
In this weeks’ Torah portion, after Yaakov marries Rachel and Leah, the Torah tells us, “Hashem saw that Leah was senuah(literally, “hated”).”1 We know that Yaakov was initially supposed to marry Rachel, but the wily Lavan switched Rachel for her elder sister, Leah. Consequently, Yaakov married both Rachel and Leah.
The commentaries wonder how such a righteous person as Yaakov could hate his own wife, even based on the background of how their marriage came about. There is a well-known concept that the first time a word is mentioned in the Torah represents the essence of its meaning. The first time that the root of the word sinah (hatred) appears in the Torah is when it refers to the fact that Leah was ‘senuah’.
The Ramban explains that when one has two wives, the one he loves less is called senuah – he does not hate her, but he loves her less than his favorite. Therefore, says the Ramban, Yaakov did not hate Leah; rather, his love for her was lacking. Therefore, we can understand that the word sinah does not necessarily imply an active hatred; rather, it can indicate a lack of sufficient care and love.
This approach can help us generate a new understanding of the famous saying of the Sages that the second Temple was destroyed because of ‘sinat chinam’ – translated as baseless hatred. This is brought out by the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. The Talmud tells us that Jerusalem was destroyed as a result of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. An unnamed man was a sworn enemy of Bar Kamtza but friendly with Kamtza. He sent his servant to invite Kamtza to a banquet, but the servant mistakenly invited Bar Kamtza. When Bar Kamtza came to the affair, the furious host demanded that he leave. Embarrassed, he offered to pay for his own meal in order to be allowed to stay. After that offer was refused, he volunteered to pay half the cost of the whole banquet, but instead he was thrown out. There were a number of Rabbis in attendance, who remained silent throughout this unpleasant incident. Indignant at their passivity, Kamtza proceeded to slander the Jewish people to the Roman authorities, which began the course of events that ended with the destruction.2
The Iyun Yaakov, asks why Kamtza is apportioned some of the blame for these events, since he did nothing throughout the whole story.3 The Ben Ish Chai answers by suggesting that Kamtza was actually present at the banquet and witnessed how Bar Kamtza was treated. He could have prevented what happened by explaining the misunderstanding with the invitations.There is a principle that if someone can protest a wrongdoing but does not, it is considered as if he himself committed it.
The Ben Ish Chai continues that this answer is even more compelling according to the Maharsha,4 who writes that Bar Kamtza was the son of Kamtza. Accordingly, Kamtza was surely aware of the feud between his son and friend, yet he did nothing to make peace between them. Because of his passivity, Kamtza is held partly responsible for the destruction.5
Furthermore, the rabbis also seem to be held partially responsible for the course of events, because they did nothing to prevent Bar Kamtza’s humiliation. Thus, there seems to be a common theme running through this story: Inaction and apathy allowed such terrible consequences to take place. Had any of the people involved strived to prevent the injustices that took place, the Temple may not have been destroyed.Their indifference to the surrounding tragedies resulted in their passivity.
In this way, it is clear that apathy to others can also cause many people to be taken out of this world. May we merit to not only remove virulent hatred from our hearts, but also apathy that also causes great harm.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Bereishit, 29:31.
- Gittin 55b.
- Iyyun Yaakov on Gittin 55b.
- Maharsha, Chiddushei Aggadot on Gittin 55b.
- Ben Yehoyada on Gittin 55b.
Reprinted with permission
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