Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

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It’s a thought-provoking study about love - and about hate.

It’s a study in which volunteers were shown different emotion-triggering pictures. The volunteers’ reactions to the pictures were then gauged by scanners that were attached to the volunteers’ brains.

Those conducting this study saw how different emotions – fear, joy, anger etc. - “lit up” different sections of the brain. They, therefore, assumed that love and hate - which seem to be different emotions - would ”light up” different sections of the brain.[1]

But that didn’t happen because love and hate “lit up” the same brain sections. Love and hate, then, are similar emotions.

To understand this similarity, let’s analyze love and hate.

What is love?

Love is an intense “warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.”[2]

What is hate?

Hate is an “intense hostility and aversion.”[3]

Love and hate are, then, both about “intense” feelings vis a vis another subject– which is why they both “light up” the same section of the brain.

This explains why we interact with “loved” - or “hated” - people in similar ways. How so? In how we take those peoples’ words to heart in similarly exaggerated – and, sometimes, misinterpreted - ways.

Sometimes such taking of words to heart is for the good.

That displays itself into positivism the we attach to well-meaning words of advice – when they are shared with us by someone we love. It also displays itself in the exhilaration that a loved one’s smile brings.

Sometimes, though, such taking of words to heart is for the bad.

Those same well-meaning words of advice – when shared with by someone hated – are viewed as attacks. That same smile, even if it’s sincere - if it’s from someone hated - will repulse.

All of this explains the following Midrash: “Despite being a man of status, Avraham saddled his own donkey, when he journeyed to the akeida. Why did he do that? Because Avraham’s love for Hashem was great and love twisted what was straight. Despite being a man of status, Bilam saddled his own donkey, when he journeyed to curse the Jews. Why did he do that? Because Bilam’s hate for us was great and hate twisted what was straight.” [4]

Yes, both love and hate “twisted” - i.e., exaggerated and caused a misreading - of the “straight.”

This fact - that both love and hate are “intense” feelings – also explains why love and hate frequently conflate. People who loved – but no longer love – one another, have difficulty shifting from “intense” love to “neutrality.” They will, instead, sometimes shift from love to that other “intense” emotion - hate. This is why ex-spouses – who once loved one another – can start hating one another. And this is why the bitterest feuds are family feuds.

This may also explain the following pesukim: “And you didn’t wish to ascend [to Eretz Yisrael]. And you slandered … and said “Because Hashem hated us, Hashem took us out of the land of Egypt… to destroy us.” [5]

Hashem never hated us. Quite the reverse. Hashem always loved us, as we read: “Hashem loved your ancestors and chose their children… and took you out with great strength from Egypt.”[6] We saw that love when Hashem redeemed us from Egypt. When Hashem split the sea for us. When Hashem gave us the Torah. And on so many other occasions.

Yes, Hashem challenged us during our desert travels. Those challenges, though, were meant to be the “blessings of a skinned knee”[7] – challenges that better us by coaxing the unearthing of latent strengths. It’s the possuk: “the way a father challenged a child, so too Hashem, your God, challenged you.” [8]

But we didn’t see those challenges as displays of love. Quite the reverse. We saw those challenges as statements of hate.

We conflated love and hate. And we became poorer because of it.

Such conflations and such misreadings of intent didn’t just occur in the desert, back then. Those conflations and misreadings also occur in our lives, right now - most especially in the netherworlds of acrimonious divorce and of family feuds.

The smallest bit of advice from an ex-spouse can be viewed as a call to war. And a compliment from an estranged family member can be misinterpreted to be an insult.

And it’s because divorcing couples and feuding families were once bound together with loving ties. Those ties don’t dissipate with divorce and feuds. They just morph from loving ties to toxic ties.

How do we address this toxicity?

How do we lower the emotional temperature?

Perhaps by reminding combatants that their earlier love is – oddly enough – contributing to the current toxicity.

Who knows?

Reminding people of a once extant love may do more than just prevent love from becoming hate.

It may also rekindle the loving side of “intense” emotions – that were there all along.

Rabbi Weber is founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message, for information on his live/zoom shiurim or to have him a scholar in residence in your community.

Rabbi Weber will be scholar in residence at the Hudson Valley Resort for the Yomim Noraim & Sukkos. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000

[1] Semir Zeki & John Romaya, University College London, October, 2008

[2] Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, Love

[3] Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, Hate

[4] Bereishis Rabba 55

[5] Devarim 1:27

[6] Devarim 4:37

[7] Wendy Mogel, “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Timeless Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children,” Simon & Shuster, 2001

[8] Devarim 8:5

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