Parshat Ki Tetze: Deuteronomy 21:16-25:19; Isaiah 54:1-10.
By Rabbi Aaron Bergman
The comedian Jay Mohr said that the key to his marriage is not that he and his wife like the same things, but rather that they hate the same things. Their mutual loathing of other things brings them closer together and creates a deeper bond.
At first, I thought this was kind of funny, but realized that it contained a darker truth about many of the problems in our society today.
It may not be a bad thing if we and our friends and family hate the same songs, movies or foods. However, it is very destructive to society if we hate other groups of people for who they are or how they live their lives in order to create connections within our own group.
This need to hate others just to become closer to the members of our own group comes from two conflicting impulses that all humans seem to have wired within us. We have natural inclinations toward goodness. We also have natural inclinations toward hating people who are different from us.
Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Yale, writes, “We have this capacity to surrender ourselves to the benefits of the whole group. Now, that can also lead us astray. We can so identify with our own group that we demonize other groups …
“There’ve been many experiments with small children in this regard. You can take a group of 3-year-olds and randomly assign them T-shirts of different colors. The children know that they didn’t do anything to deserve these colors, and yet, once you assign them these colors, they immediately hate the other group. Those blue T-shirted children should be punished. They’re awful children. They shouldn’t get any toys.
“It’s crazy. You just scratch the surface of human beings, and you get this quality.”
Our Torah portion is concerned with this demonizing of the other in order to create closer tribal bonds. Deuteronomy 21:10 begins, “When you go to war against your enemies …” The word enemies here seems redundant. Whom else would you go to war against? How many times, though, have leaders created enemies of others who were no real threat in order to create patriotism and unity among their followers? How many times have they tried to make their own people feel superior by dehumanizing others?
There are some truly dangerous people in the world, and they do terrible and destructive things. They need to be stopped, and sometimes war is the only response left. So many wars, though, are fought just because we have been taught to hate who the other person is, not what he does. We see others as different, and alien, and, therefore, threatening to our way of life. This threat is rarely true, but it serves as an effective deflection from the issues that a group of people may have among themselves. Instead of trying to figure out a solution that benefits everyone, we look to blame others for our problems.
The Torah, by demanding that we only battle against those who are a genuine danger to us, is asking us a fundamental question. Can we love ourselves without hating others?
Rabbi Aaron Bergman is a rabbi at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills.