By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
This week, there was a meeting between the Satmar Rebbe and Senator Schumer. The meeting caused a number of people to speak somewhat negatively about the senator. Their reasoning behind their negative speech was that he is pro-abortion, pro-woke, pro-the nuclear deal with Iran, and that there are various other prohibitions he may be violating. Many invoke the verse in Tehillim (139:29), “Do I not hate them that hate You,” extrapolating that one should fully hate these evildoers.
What follows is not only a different perspective, but a perspective that many of the halachic sources indicate that we should, in fact, have toward our brethren who have become evildoers, nebach.
The pasuk in Bereishis says, “Vayishlach Yaakov malachim lefanav el Esav achiv—Yaakov sent messengers before him to Esav, his brother.”
Don’t we know that Esav was his brother? The Midrash Tanchuma HaYashan (perek 4) answers that Yaakov acted toward him with brotherhood.
Debate In The Talmud
No one argues that one should keep a distance from an evildoer (see Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 4:5), and not look at his countenance. But there is an argument about other aspects.
The verse in Devarim (14:1) states, “Banim atem l’Hashem Elokeichem—you are [all] sons to Hashem your G-d.” The Gemara in Kiddushin (36a) cites a debate between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Yehudah says that this verse applies only when we behave properly. Rav Meir understands this verse as applying at all times, even when we do not perform the will of Hashem. Rav Meir’s understanding is that this verse applies not only at all times but also to everyone—even resha’im. Furthermore, it seems from the Rashba (Responsa Vol. I #194) that the final halachah is like Rav Meir in this regard, and not like Rabbi Yehudah.
With this in mind, we can now better understand a fascinating Kol Bo (Rabbi Greenwald, 1888–1955) in the laws of aveilus. He cites a ruling (p. 22) of the Maharshal on the following case:
A rabbi is faced with two people who are on their deathbeds, and both require the rabbi to say vidui with them. One of them is a righteous man; the other is an infamous evildoer. The Maharshal rules that the rabbi should tend to the needs of the evildoer, “because he certainly needs the penance more.”
Both of the deathly ill patients are Hashem’s sons, even the evil one. Since they are Hashem’s children, and Hashem loves his children even if they do evil, it follows that we should also love them. If Hashem loves them and treats them as sons, shouldn’t we?
Indeed, the Chofetz Chaim cites Rabbi Yaakov Molin (Ahavas Chesed toward the end of the book, subparagraph 28) that it is a mitzvah to love the resha’im, evildoers. The Chofetz Chaim explains that when the Gemara discusses hating evildoers, it is referring to only evildoers who remain steadfast in their evil ways after having received proper rebuke. But nowadays no one knows how to give proper rebuke; therefore, there is still a mitzvah to love them.
The Chofetz Chaim brings proof to this position from a responsum of the Maharam Lublin (siman 13). This is also the position of the Chazon Ish (Yoreh De’ah 2:16, 28; see also Even HaEzer 118:6) who cites the Hagaos Maimanios to the same effect (Dei’os, chapter 6). The Binyan Tzion writes that in our times the entire issue of hating is not applicable because evildoers should all be considered children who do not know otherwise.
Others suggest that the hate described in Tehillim is not a full hate, but rather a more subtle and partial emotion along those lines. They illustrate this understanding by citing other instances in the Talmud where that term is used more subtly.
How To Love
In sefer Orech L’Chaim (beginning of Parashas Noach), the author writes as follows: “I had asked Rav Shmelka Nikolsberg how it is possible to love evildoers. He responded that one must focus on the neshamah that lies within them, as it is a chelek Elokah mi’ma’al, a portion of the Divine from Above.”
Rav Yisroel Salanter, zt’l, suggested that each individual employ “tachbulos” (mental tricks) in order to fool himself into the proper method of thinking. Tachbulos work differently for different people. My rosh yeshiva, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l, explained that since tachbulos work so differently for everyone, Rav Salanter did not provide sample tachbulos. Nonetheless, there is one that is enormously effective in developing a love for someone who may not have the most redeeming characteristics otherwise. Imagine that you are living in Nazi Germany, chalilah. A Nazi is chasing you with a rifle in hand. If the person with whom you are currently having difficulty were present, would he not save you and try to eliminate the Nazi? Of course he would. If this is the case, is it his fault that we are not living in Nazi Germany? By the same token, if you were to have a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, would he not lend you ten dollars so that your flat can be changed? Of course he would. Is it his fault that you didn’t meet up with him when you had a flat tire?
The Tomer Devorah (1:12) writes that it is proper to have mercy and compassion upon evil people and say, “At the end of it all he is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” This, too, can be used as a tool to help eliminate our hate toward the evildoer.
Rav Moshe Feinstein rules (Igros Moshe C.M. Vol. I #8) that even if someone is a rasha, it is still forbidden to sue him in a gentile court. Certainly, it is clear from his writings that it would likewise be forbidden to damage the evildoer by other methods, too. Thus, we should avoid incarcerating him (unless he is a clear and present danger to others), killing him, or defacing his property.
What about the concept of arvus, that all members of Israel are responsible for one another? Does this apply to evildoers? This is a debate in halachah. The Radbaz (Vol. I #187) and the Avnei Neizer (Y.D. 126) write that there is no arvus to an evildoer. Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector (Ein Yitzchok EH 1:10) writes that there is arvus to an evildoer.
There is also a mitzvah of correcting one’s fellow man, called “tochachah.” There is a debate as to whether this mitzvah applies to evildoers, too. The Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 608 in B.H. “Aval”) indicates that there is no mitzvah. Rav Yosef Teumim, author of the Pri Megadim (Kuntrus Matan Scharan Shel Mitzvos III, Chakirah 4) holds that there is, as does the author of the Ma’alos HaMiddos (tenth ma’alah).
It is clear from the above sources that even in regard to evildoers, we need to gain some perspective. Cooler heads must prevail. They are still people, and we have to realize that they are still sons of Hashem and have a chelek Elokah mi’ma’al, a Divine spark from above. We should also pray that their eyes should open to see the truth.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.