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Parashat Vayigash 5778: Nobody is born hating

Why is there conflict in the World? Of course, there are many reasons, one of them is that there is separation between people. Our identity depends on borders, to know who am I means to know that I am not you. The thing is that if my way is good, then why it is not good to you? And if you have a different way, isn’t that a threat to my way?

When the Children of Israel arrive to Egypt Joseph warns them that shepherds are an abomination in the eyes of the Egyptians. There were many groups in the periphery of the very hierarchical Egyptian society, but still Joseph never explains why shepherds were considered an abomination.

Rashi wrote that there was a god in Egypt in shape of a sheep, so it was an issue of power. Shepherds had power over the sheep, therefore over their god and over them. Another commentator, Hizkuni, expanded this and wrote that the Egyptians were afraid that their destiny depended on the flock. They felt impotent against the “divine” sheep and were resentful at the same time. A way to deal with fear is to find somebody with even less control or power than you: the shepherds. The Egyptians tried to empower themselves at the expense of the shepherds.

Other commentators went in a different direction. They believed that the Egyptians were vegans, didn’t eat meat or any other animal product. The hostility in this case was simply because they didn’t get any benefit from shepherds and their occupation. They didn’t care that other societies have a use for the sheep, the Egyptians cared only about themselves.

Finally, the Rashbam, grandson of Rashi, wrote that the Egyptians simply hated the shepherds just because. There was no deeper reason. Rashbam believed that hate doesn’t need an ideology or experience, but only prejudice and unfounded feelings. After we already hate a group then we develop reasons to justify our hate.

Nelson Mandela said once that nobody is born hating, but it is something that we are taught to do, we educate our children to hate some groups or some kinds of people. However, if it is possible to do this, then definitely we can teach our children to love, it should be even easier as the human heart prefers to love than to hate in its natural state. Just watch young children playing together who don’t care for race, religion, social class or nationality… until somebody takes their favourite toy.

Hate that comes from insecurity and a feeling of weakness is not a legitimate tool to empower ourselves. Instead of making the differences and nuances between people into racism and hate, let’s see in them an opportunity to study from the culture, history and art of the other. There is something to learn from every human being.

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