I propose an additional prayer for Tisha b’Av, one that’s useful for every day. Some of you may be thinking, “What, we’re suffering from a shortage of Tisha b’Av prayers?” I agree; what we already have is more than sufficient.
The Tisha b’Av liturgy is full of kinot—dirges, laments. They describe in gruesome and graphic detail the sufferings of the Jewish people in connection with the destructions of the First and Second Temples. They also lament at some length the sins we committed that provoked God to unleash destruction on the First Temple. And the kinot go on and on. There are a lot of them, some of them quite long.
The Talmud (Yoma 9b) tells us why the Temples were destroyed. The first was destroyed because of murder, prohibited sex, and idolatry. These three sins have a special halachic status: if an oppressor tells us to commit one of these sins or die, we choose martyrdom over sinning. The generation of the Second Temple was quite different from the first; it occupied itself with learning Torah, observing divine commandments, and acts of kindness. So why was the Second Temple destroyed? Because of baseless hatred (sin’at ḥinam). This teaches us that baseless hatred is as serious as the other three sins combined.
Given that baseless hatred is so much more serious than the other three, why doesn’t halachah require that we undergo martyrdom rather than engage in it? I have two guesses, both of which may be wrong. First, it would be impractical. People can be told not to murder, not to have illicit sex, and not to worship idols, and there’s some chance they might obey. There’s little chance that people will stop hating baselessly. Second, how likely is it that an oppressor will order you to baselessly hate someone on pain of martyrdom? Nevertheless, it's a good teaching tool to bring home the fact that baseless hatred is a very serious matter.
And we need to define terms. What is baseless hatred anyway? Rashi defines it (at Shabbat 32b). Baseless hatred is hatred in which the hater sees no sin that would permit hatred. In other words, baseless hatred is hatred that you can’t blame the hated person for.
Now for the prayer I recommend for Tisha b’Av. It’s a statement on forgiveness that’s used as an introduction to the bedtime Shema. There are several variations, and some siddurim just don’t include it. All the versions I’ve seen include this language: "I forgive all who have angered me or annoyed me or who have sinned against me whether against my body or my property or my honor or anything of mine. . . ." The author of this prayer had great insight. If he had assumed that we are angry or annoyed only with those who have sinned against us, he wouldn’t have listed them separately; he would have simply written “I forgive all who have sinned against me,” since that would include those who angered or annoyed the one who’s praying. If someone angers or annoys us, that has to do with our reaction to them, not necessarily with anything they did to us. (Obviously, people who anger or annoy us may have also sinned against us.) Is there anyone who just ANNOYS you??? Not that they’ve done anything to you, but is their presence like the sound of someone playing with Styrofoam????
This prayer is appropriate for Tisha b’Av because it’s very possible that baseless anger and baseless annoyance are the gateways to baseless hatred. In your personal Tisha b’Av liturgy, you have my permission to substitute this prayer for a kinah (or for many kinot). If you’re using a siddur where this prayer mentions incarnations or Israelites, you have my permission to skip those parts, which aren’t included in some versions anyway.
Let’s talk about some events of 2020. Women of the Wall (WOW) released a letter that Shmuel Rabinowitz (Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites) sent to one of his rabbinate’s supporters in which he denies that a Torah scroll intended for the women, which was taken into custody, was confiscated. He writes, “The only event which sadly provokes animosity, violence, and baseless hatred [emphasis added] is the demonstrative prayer service conducted by the Women of the Wall.” Odd. So I wrote to WOW to ask for the original Hebrew version of the letter; I wanted to find out if he actually used sin’at ḥinam. (I contacted WOW because the Wall rabbinate’s only online presence is a very beautiful site that doesn’t say anything about WOW—no press releases or the like. Which makes sense; the purpose of of the web site is to attract people to the Wall, not to talk about controversies.) WOW sent a slightly different letter, dated about a week later, from Rabinowitz to another supporter. The Hebrew letter mentions “an event arousing animosity, violence, and sin’at ḥinam.”
If I were one of the violent guys with animosity (which I’m not; I support WOW), I think this would probably be my reaction:
Well, this stuff from the rabbi is strange. Violence and animosity, obviously, I get that. But baseless hatred? That’s as serious as an accusation gets. Does this rabbi person even get that? If he thinks we’re baselessly hating, he should be preaching to us about it and trying to get us to do teshuvah, not just mentioning it in passing in a letter (thereby doing loshn hora [evil speech] against us). But the worst part is his talking about “provoking” baseless hatred. What sort of foolishness is this? It’s not merely ridiculous, but actually absurd, to talk about provoking baseless hatred. If there’s provocation, then the hatred isn’t baseless. Do we really need this rabbi fellow with his nonsense? Should we hire someone else?
Nonsense indeed, and we need to learn from this rabbi guy’s foolishness. We need to be absolutely clear with ourselves that we can’t blame anyone else for our baseless anger and baseless annoyance. It’s on us, and we need to deal with it; it isn’t the annoying person’s problem. (For me, annoyance is a much more serious demon than anger.)
And more 2020, and beyond. In the prayer, we forgive those “who have sinned against me.” It doesn’t say anything about forgiving those who have sinned against others, or against whole populations. There is much to be angry about. I’m angry. We mustn’t let our anger distort our beings, but we need to stay angry. And focused. We need to keep in mind that cutesy nicknames for those we’re angry at or making fun of their appearance is a behavior that should be discouraged in children; so what excuse do we chronological adults have? (And that preachment is intended both for those I agree with and for those I disagree with.) It’s not helpful, it’s not going to convince anyone of anything (except maybe our wondrous cleverness), and it degrades us. As Rev. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, points out, the problems are institutional, not personal.
This Tisha b’Av we’ll be thinking about the sufferings of our people, which are many and tragic. Some of us may also be reading literature bemoaning the flawed state of today’s Judaism ("those whose piety differs from mine are the source of all our problems!"). I ask that we devote some of our time to thinking about our baseless anger and baseless annoyance and our need to conquer them.