Do Not Hate Your Brother In Your Heart
The Torah Portion of Kedoshim is replete with mitzvot that teach about interpersonal relationships. Towards the end of this section, the Torah instructs us: "Do not hate(1) your friend in your heart, rebuke your friend, do not bear upon him sin".(2) There are a number of questions on this verse: Firstly, why does the Torah stress that one may not his fellow in his heart, thus implying that it is only forbidden to hate someone in one's heart, but not in any other way. Secondly, the three parts to the verse do not seem to be connected, however the fact that they are in the same verse strongly suggest that there is some kind of connection - what is it? Finally, the meaning of the last clause in the verse, "do not bear upon him sin," is unclear.
With regard to the Torah's specification of hatred in one's heart, many commentaries write that indeed the Torah is focusing particularly on hatred that is kept in one's heart to the exclusion of hatred that is expressed externally.(3) They explain that of course it is forbidden to express one's displeasure with someone in a hostile fashion and that doing so can involve a number of prohibitions such as taking revenge and bearing a grudge. However, one who acts in this way does not transgress the mitzvah to not hate one's fellow in his heart, because he did not keep it inside, rather he expressed it to the subject of his displeasure. In this mitzvah the Torah is focusing on situations in which a person feels hurt or offended by someone else and he chooses to keep his hatred inside, without discussing it with the person who hurt him. The problem with this inaction is that it will inevitably cause the hatred to fester with very negative consequences.
The Rambam offers the example in the Bible of the incident with Amnon and Tamar.(4) After Amnon committed a terrible deed, the Prophet tells us that Tamar's brother, Avshalom bore a great hatred for his half-brother, Amnon, and did not speak to him about what happened at all.(5) The Ralbag writes that had he spoken to Amnon about what happened then the hatred would have dissipated. Instead it only grew to the point that Avshalom had Amnon murdered two years later.(6) Even though Amnon clearly committed a grave sin and Avshalom seemingly had every right to be furious with him for what happened, nonetheless he is taken to task for not speaking to Amnon and letting the hatred fester with terrible consequences.
We have now answered the first question of why the Torah particularly focuses on hatred in one's heart. This form of hatred has its own unique problem that is not found to the same degree in hatred which is expressed; that is that it results in an unnecessary escalation of the hatred which could have been avoided with dialogue. In this vein, the Sefer HaChinuch writes that internal hatred is worse than revealed hatred, and that is why the Torah singled out this form of hatred in particular. He continues with very strong language, writing, "the root reason for this mitzvah; because hatred in one's heart causes great evil between people, causing permanent conflict between brothers and friends… and it is the lowest and most disgusting trait which is the most reprehensible in the eyes of people with common sense."
We can now also understand the continuation of the verse; "rebuke your friend". The commentaries explain that in addition to referring to the standard rebuke that is required when one sees another person sinning this mitzvah also includes situations in which one is hurt by his fellow. The Torah instructs us, do not hate your fellow in your heart by keeping it to yourself, rather you must speak to him about it - that is the rebuke that the Torah refers to. The Ohr HaChaim explains that there are two likely consequences of speaking to him in a reasonable manner about the pain he has caused. Either he will explain his actions showing that in fact he did not commit a sin and that there was some kind of misunderstanding. Or, he will admit that he did behave incorrectly, and now that he realizes that damage that he caused, he will apologize and vow not to do it again. The Ohr HaChaim then explains the meaning of the final clause in the verse "do not bear upon him sin". It means that when someone hurts you, you should not immediately assume that he sinned, rather you should judge him favorably, and assume that he perhaps did not sin at all, and even if he did, that he would gladly repent if he realized the damage that he caused.(7)
We have seen the reprehensible nature of internal hatred, and the accompanying necessity of speaking to a person towards whom one bears any sense of hatred because of something he did. Experience proves that when one follows the Torah's instructions in these areas, the result is almost always that the person does explain himself and apologizes for inadvertent pain caused. The vast majority of people are not cruel and do not intend to hurt other people. Therefore when the victim of harsh words or some other form of behavior explains to the person how they were feeling, the result is almost always positive, preventing an unnecessary escalation of hatred, and avoiding a great deal of needless pain. It is not easy to approach someone in such a way, however the fear involved in no way exempts one from the Torah obligation to try to clarify the situation. May we all merit to have open and honest relationships where disputes can be quickly resolved.
1. It should be pointed out that the Torah's use of the word, 'hate' is not limited to virulent hatred, rather it can include a far weaker level of displeasure with someone else. (See Parshas Vayetsei, 29:31 with the Ramban on the verse that implies that Yaakov 'hated' Leah).
2. Vayikra, 19:17.
3. Ramban, Rashbam and Ohr HaChaim, 19:17, Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos, Loh Saaseh, 302, Rambam, Hilchos Deao, 6:5-6, Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvo 238.
4. Shmuel 2, Chapter 13 for the details of this sad story.
5. Shmuel 2, 13:22.
6. Rambam, Hilchos Deos, 6:6.
7. Ohr HaChaim, Vayikra, 19:17.