D’var Torah: Parshat Bo and Hate Harms the Hater
One of the often repeated phrases that my mother attributes to my grandmother, the late Tybie Capin, was that “hate harms the hater.” In this week’s parsha, Bo, and throughout Pharaoh’s story, there is discussion of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened. The Hebrew root word כבד (kavod) is often associated with honor. It more literally means “heavy.” It is also the root for the word “liver.” There are those who say that Pharaoh’s hate physiologically changed his internal organs and corrupted them. As he committed evil acts, his heart became like stone. His obsession with destroying the Israelites eventually led to tragedy for the Egyptian people as a group and for Pharaoh personally – he lost his own son. Hate literally harmed the hater.
What can we learn from this? On a day-to-day basis, it is often easy to feel emotions like hate toward people who are legitimately hurting us. I hear children, teens and adults often say, “I hate so and so.” I try to point out that hate is a powerful emotion that should be reserved for extraordinary evil. Often the bad behavior that is directed toward us is more a reflection of that person and what they are dealing with than it is about us. We need to protect ourselves, but we don’t want hate to lead us to act in ways that are self-defeating.
One of my favorite prayers appears in Kabbalat Shabbat in Psalm 97. It reads, “Those who love God, hate evil.” The verse is not parallel in that you love God (an entity) but you hate evil (an emotion). We are instructed to hate the action of evil, not necessarily the evil doer. I don’t think that is for the evil doer’s sake but rather for what hating does to us. I think my grandmother was right. Hate harms the hater.