Post by Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz
In recent months, I have become inured to personal attacks on my religious belief system, shul, community, and me. Notwithstanding this, I don’t believe everyone should agree. Difference of opinion is healthy and keeps us alive. Disagreement forces us to examine and think critically about other opinions, informing our own beliefs and values. Yet the spirit in which criticism is given does matter to me.
2000 years ago, in the Second Temple period, the Jewish people succumbed to their internal strife. At a time when the Jewish people should have united against the Roman Empire, the Jewish resistance fragmented between upper and lower classes, priestly caste and the masses, fundamentalists and progressives. Sadducees and Pharisees. They fell into a virtual civil war, and Titus and his troops conquered the city and burnt the second Beit Hamikdash to the ground. The Gemara’s rationale for the demise and destruction of the Temple is sinat chinam, groundless hatred between the Jewish people. It was not their political or religious disagreements that tainted them—it was the venom underlying their disagreements.
The question I find myself asking today is whether history will repeat itself. Will 20/20 hindsight after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash awaken us to the tragic consequences of baseless hatred?
I welcome constructive criticism, and with it the opportunity to learn and grow. But criticism must come from a place of love and respect. Not anonymous, hateful, unthinking statements.
The parsha this week opens with a discussion of nedarim, and perhaps the Torah offers a perspective on how we should use our words and the care one should take when making a vow. There is much discussion about whether taking a neder (vow) is praiseworthy or not. If everything is truly written in the Torah—that which is prohibited and that which is permitted, who are we to obligate or prohibit something to ourselves?
It is for this reason that Rambam asserts that the motivation behind a neder is of critical importance. Does the individual take upon himself or herself a new obligation in order to enhance avodat Hashem, service of God, or does the neder perhaps symbolize a rebellion against the Torah? The Rambam reaches this very conclusion, as he formulates his dialectical approach at the end of Hilkhot Nedarim (13:23 — 24):One who takes nedarim in order to stabilize his conduct and correct his ways — this is proper and praiseworthy…But although they are considered the service [of God], a person should not indulge in, or accustom himself to nedarim that add prohibitions. He should rather abstain from those things from which it is worthwhile to abstain without a neder.”
In the right context, done for the right reason, a neder is indeed praiseworthy. So too, criticism of other people can either enhance avodat Hashem or be a hillul Hashem.
In the case of cricism, the distinction lies in the tone.