It is the 9th of Av today, the date on the Hebrew calendar when both Temples were destroyed because of internal conflicts and unfounded hatred, and when two exiles began. The latter ruin is more relevant to today because all the writings tell us that it was destroyed because we hated each other to the point that we slaughtered one another, very literally, burned each other’s food stores, and did such inconceivable evils to each other that it’s better not to mention them.
In recent years, we have seen such escalation in the level of verbal, and sometimes physical violence in public discourse that people are beginning to fear that it will end in bloodshed. I think their fear has merit. The intense hatred that sparked the civil war that ruined the Temple never really healed. Since we were exiled and dispersed, we stopped fighting, but we never really overcame it.
The only way Israel ever healed hatred was by rising above it, by increasing the importance of unity more than the hatred that raised its vile head time after time. At the time of the ruin of the Temple, the hatred was so intense that we couldn’t rise above it so we destroyed each other and left very little work for the Romans when they came to conquer Jerusalem. Had we remained united, the Romans would not have taken the city even if they kept the siege for years (which they wouldn’t be able to do).
Now that the people of Israel are gathering again in Israel, the ancient hatred is resurfacing. We may not feel that it’s the same hatred that destroyed us then, but its roots are planted deep within our collective memory and dictate our actions.
As then, so now, if we increase the importance of unity more than our hatred for each other, the country will thrive and the State of Israel will be a role model of harmonious living. But if we can’t unite we’ll be in deep trouble; we are our worst enemies. The hatred between us is reemerging now only so we can see it for what it is and rise above it, just as our forefathers did thousands of years ago, but failed at the time of the ruin of the Temple. If we let hatred overtake our minds and hearts, it will do to us what it did to our ancestors, whose downfall we commemorate today. At least now we have the experience and we can make a choice.