Monday, August 15, 2011
By Susan Esther Barnes
It’s a refrain I’ve often heard said about people in the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender and Queer (LBGTQ) community, and I’ve also heard it used in reference to non-Orthodox Jews by the Orthodox. Hate the person’s actions, but not the person. I’m not sure this is actually possible.
Judaism teaches that our thoughts and intentions are not as important as our actions. The person who sits at home and thinks about how much he loves everyone in the world is not doing a mitzvah, but the person who thinks homeless people are vermin but gives them money anyway is doing one.
On one hand, our actions help to shape our thoughts, and therefore can change who we are. The person sitting home alone is not interacting with others in the world, and is learning nothing new. The person out giving money to the homeless on the street is interacting with them, in some small way. Maybe, over time, these interactions will help them to see the other person as more human. Maybe they will start to look at the causes of homelessness and see it is often not the homeless person’s fault that they are now in this position.
“Na’aseh v’nishma” the Torah says (Exodus 24:7), “we will do and we will see (or understand).” First we do, and in the act of doing we change how we see things; we change our understanding of how the world works, and therefore we change who we are inside. Our actions and our selves are bound up together in a way that they cannot be separated entirely.
So how can we say we hate the actions of someone, and claim that in no way do we hate the person him- or herself? Hate is a complete rejection of a thing or a person. It leaves no room for understanding or compassion. It is black and white, leaving no room for grey.
What if, instead, I merely disapprove of that person’s actions? What if I remind myself that no mentally stable person wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m going to do something hateful today”? If the person ends up doing something hateful, there must be a reason for it. Something that overcame their intentions.
Perhaps the best place to start, then, rather than hate for the action, is to try to understand what caused that person to take that action. What was their intention? Do they recognize that what they did was wrong? What are they willing to do to make t’shuvah, to try to return to the correct path? What are you doing to help them? These are questions that come from love and compassion, not from hate.
I suspect the notion of “I hate the action, but not the person” stems from the Ghandi quote, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” Another problem I have with this sentiment, and how it’s being applied, is that we don’t all agree on what is or isn’t sinful.
It is quite clear to me, for instance, that loving another human being and expressing that love in a committed relationship is not a sin. It is equally clear to me that loving God and expressing that love in a way that honors Judaism’s tradition and thousands-of-years-old track record of changing with the times is also not a sin. Therefore, being a member of the LBGTQ community, and/or being a non-Orthodox Jew is not a sin, and acting in ways consistent with either or both of those identities is not a sin.
But when someone tells a person that living in a committed relationship with someone of the same gender is a sin, or when they tell them that failing to keep separate sets of dishes at home is a sin, they are doing more than rejecting a specific action. They are negating the way of life of that person. They are saying that who that person is, as a person, is unacceptable. They may claim that only the actions themselves are hated, and not the person, but the two are inseparable.
“Elohai neshama shenatata bi t’hora hi – the soul that God has given me is pure.” To claim that another person must suppress their neshama and act in a way that is contrary to the pure soul that God gave them is to do violence to that soul. I do not see how you can hate the pure, loving expression of a person’s soul and truthfully claim you do not hate who that person is, as a person.
So if you hate the soul that God gave me, if you hate the only honest way I have of expressing that soul, then you hate me. My actions are the only way I have to express who I truly am. Don’t try to make yourself feel better by claiming it is only my actions you hate. When you hate the actions that express who I am, then you hate me.