A few weeks ago, I linked to an article by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, who argues that one of the major differences between Christianity and Judaism is the treatment of hatred toward one’s enemies. The Christians preach forgiveness; the Jews make a point of remembering their enemies and their evil deeds (see, for example, this reflection in the Jerusalem Post), including on several ceremonial occasions throughout the year. The recent marking of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel brought me back to this topic.
It strikes me that this has to do not only with the fact that Christ dies for the forgiveness of all sins, but also with the distinction between the different stages of sacred history in which Jews and Christians find themselves: that of persecution and that of comfort.
A nation that is righteous but insignificant in size and persecuted must hold on to the memory of evils perpetrated against it and continually declare them wrong. Otherwise it will begin to see itself through the eyes of its oppressors, as abused people and oppressed nations are wont to do, and despise itself. And how dare Israel despise itself when God loves it? Righteous hatred of the wicked is how we protect ourselves from debilitating, and unrighteous, self-hatred.
I wonder whether this may be part of why Jesus is so seemingly unforgiving of the Pharisees (“brood of vipers” does not evoke love and reconciliation!): lest His disciples, after He is degraded and murdered by these enemies, fall into the temptation of thinking that he who has been humiliated – rather than the perpetrators – is somehow pathetic.
Thus I cannot, emotionally or in principle, condemn what Rabbi Soloveichik calls “Jewish hatred” as wrong or spiritually primitive (even if, as I’ve suggested, it can be unhelpful to us as a nation). However, he who has already been comforted by God will not believe his oppressors when they degrade him – just as a woman who was once abused but is now beloved will find it easy to shake off her former abuser’s insults. He does not, therefore, need to hold on to the memory of evil, or even hatred of current evildoers, in order to preserve his sense of selfhood and dignity.
As Jesus dies on the cross, He does not curse the “brood of vipers” but asks God to forgive them, since He knows He will soon be at the right hand of God. For Christians, the closeness of God in the Eucharist and the promise of eternal life in Christ should be a sufficient and ongoing reminder that, though men may hate us, we are beloved by Him Who is above men – now, not in the sacred past or a Messianic future. Accordingly, we must remind both ourselves and others of the love of God by learning to love our enemies.