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Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

Is it OK to say 'love the sinner, hate the sin'?

Your question is probably more about is it OK to believe and espouse this principle, rather than to just say it.

Somehow, the idea of loving the sinner is problematic. If someone is a real sinner, how can they be truly loved?

It is probably more appropriate to think in terms of hating the sin, but not hating the sinner. There is a world of difference between "loving" and "not hating."

Love needs to be earned. It is one thing to have compassion for the addict or the thief, but quite another to love the addict or the thief. And generally, we should avoid the hatred of another person if for no other reason than that hate of another person is a creeping poison that can have a damaging impact on one's persona.

The idea that it is difficult to love the sinner is subject to nuance. Say you found out about a person who defrauded unsuspecting seniors of their life savings, a Bernie Madoff clone. That, you appropriately say, is reprehensible.

But what if you then find out that this fraud artist is your own child? Do parents stop loving their children because of the children's wrongdoing? Everyday experience seems to suggest that is not the case.

Here is where the issue becomes a bit unclear. Does the fact that the parent continues to love the sinful child mean that the parent "loves the sinner," as you put it, or is it that the parent loves the child unconditionally, and does not allow the sin to interfere with the love dynamics? The latter is the more likely explanation.

It sounds nice to love everyone, and in an ideal world that would be, or should be, the norm. But what message do we send when we accord equal love to everyone, regardless of their behaviour? It does not resonate as logical, and can easily lead to a distorted set of values.

Why should people who care little about others and do nothing to improve the world be treated the same as those who are kind, responsible, caring members of society? We can hug Churchill, but can we hug Stalin?

However, we should value the potential that even the sinner has to mend the delinquent ways and become someone worthy of being loved.


Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on  January 18, 2014

Sun, January 20 2019 14 Shevat 5779