It's understandable that att this time of year the Torah world is buzzing with sermons and drashos about Tisha B'Av. One of the most common topics in recent years has been sinas chinam, baseless hatred. Chazal tell us that it was because of sinas chinam that the Second Temple was destroyed (may it be speedily rebuilt) and that only the Jewish people's correcting of that egregious behaviour will result in its restoration.
The problem is that sinas chinam is not that easy a sin to peg down. On one hand, we are quite obviously still guilty of it. The fact that this Sunday we will once again sit on the floor and wail over the destruction of our Temple is proof of this. If we had overcome our tendency to sinas chinam, then we would be celebrating in Yerushalayim instead.
But sinas chinam isn't like other sins. It's quite easy to find Jews who do not keep kosher or observe Shabbos properly. Unfortunately, there are many amongst us who do not observe the laws of family purity, modesty or charity to others. And sometimes you'll even get people to admit that they're guilty of such failings. If Chazal has said that eating freshly barbequed pig on Shabbos at the local brothel was the reason for the destruction of the Temple, it would be easy to figure out how to correct it. After all, anyone doing such things knows they're committing a sin. These behaviours are not something one can rationalize away as being all right. But sinas chinam? I don't think there's a Torah-observant Jew alive today who will admit that he is guilty of that. Which is odd, considering that, according to Chazal, it's one of the lynch pins to our ongoing exile.
All one has to do is follow the mainstream and religious Jewish press and blogsphere to see that sinas chinam is indeed alive and well. My father always says that the Arabs could have destroyed Israel years ago (Rachamanah litzlan) by simply making peace with it and then waiting for us to tear each other apart. The glee with which any given group within the Jewish community will gloat over the shortcomings of their ideological opponents is breathtaking to behold. The constant snide putdowns, the assumption of each sect that it, and it along, holds the true approach to God in its worldview, all these are put on display daily. But if you approach any of the sources of this schmutz, point a finger at them and say: "That's sinas chinam!" they'll emphatically deny it. Sinas chinam is not baseless hatred. They have plenty of reasons to hate their opponents. Good reasons, in fact, so it's certainly not chinam.
How can one overcome this? All I can suggest is the following:
Chazal tell us that a person should view the world as being equally balanced between righteousness and wickedness. That person should see himself as the deciding vote, as it were, between the two sides. Choose poorly, and the world is plunged into darkness. Choose well and we move that much closer to our final Redemption. But our Sages go further. They also tell us that each person should see his deeds as being perfectly balanced between those which are right and those which are wrong. Each time a person comes to perform an action and is presented with a choice between what is right in the Torah's view and what it wrong, he should remember that should he choose the wrong action, he will, through the principle of batel v'rov, condemn himself as completely wicked but if he chooses correctly he will earn complete righteousness.
So all I can say is this: I'm that person. If I choose correctly, if I choose to avoid loshon horo and bitul Torah, if I accept that despite my realizing it I am guilty of sinas chinam and that all the negative feelings in my heart I have towards others are really not justified, if I choose to embrace ahavas chesed and ahavas Shamayim, then I can change myself. And by changing myself, I can change the world. I can bring the Redemption that much closer. Me! I have that power!
And how will I know if I have accomplished this? If, this coming motzei Shabbos I get to make havdalah and hop on the next flight to Israel to witness the rebuilding of our Temple, if Tisha B'Av is suddenly changed into a day of festivity and happiness at the return of the Shechinah to Yerushalayim, then I know I will have succeeded.
But if, after Ma'ariv I sit down on the floor of the shul and open my megillas Eichah and read of how our people were made to suffer for our sins just like I did last year and every year before, if nothing in the world has changed, our enemies still sit triumphantly on our Har HaBayis and I still have to read in the news how our State continues to stumble down the wrong path, then I know that I have failed. I have not overcome my base nature. I have not changed. I am still guilty of sinas chinam and because I couldn't tilt the world towards good, we all still sit in golus and cry over another year of lost potential for the Redemption.
And maybe if everyone says that to themselves, something might change.