Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Gateway Sin

Those who debate the issue of legalizing certain types of drugs, will often encounter the notion of a “gateway drug,” something that, by itself seems somewhat benign, but may lead to the use of much more dangerous substances. Can there be “gateways” to sin?

Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen (Kagan in Russian), known as the Chofetz Chaim, the title of one of his greatest works, also penned a lesser-known volume called Ahavat Yisrael, in which he codifies the laws regarding Ahavat Yisrael (loving a fellow Jew) and the horrible consequences of its opposite. He explains why the iniquity of Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) has more deleterious consequences than other evils.

First, he writes, the act of hating causes one to violate, every second in which that hatred is present in one’s heart, the Biblical precept of hating a fellow in one’s heart (Leviticus 19:17). This can accrue for months or even years, where the sins multiply at a rate one cannot even quantify. Second, reasoned the Chofetz Chaim, Sinat Chinam serves as a gateway to further religious malevolence, such as causing disputes, evil speech, tale-bearing, deceit, and causing embarrassment, which our sages have homiletically likened to homicide. The prohibition of taking revenge (Leviticus 19:18), which is the Biblical prelude to the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow as oneself, implies hatred as well.

Finally, the Talmud suggests that two friends who do not talk to one another for three days because of anger, are considered to be in violation of the prohibition of hating a fellow. Thus, it is entirely possible that one small misunderstanding between Jews, a minor infraction, or an insignificant spat, could result in violating several major religious infractions. The Chofetz Chaim declares: “We must conclude that we must try very hard to see and fix this bitter iniquity, which is the principal cause of our extended exile. May our good G-d aid us in removing this hatred from our hearts. May no one be jealous of us, nor may we be jealous of others.”


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