Love your Neighbor but Hate Your Enemy

Does the Torah really teach people to hate their enemies?

Love and hate is found in the same place, but point in opposite directions. (Image © Bigstock/Frazao)

Does the Torah really command us to hate our enemies? Yeshua said, “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (Mathew 5:43). This makes it sound as if Yeshua was replacing the Torah’s law “to hate our enemies” with a new law of love for our enemies: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This interpretation plays well into the hands of those who believe that Yeshua came to replace the Torah with a new law.

While it certainly is true that the Torah says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), it contains no commandment to hate your enemy. Instead, Yeshua contradicted what must have been a popular adage among the Zealots: “Love your neighbor, but hate your enemy.” That is to say, “Love your fellow-Jew (i.e., your neighbor), but hate the Romans.” The Dead Sea community in Qumran went even further. They taught their followers to “love all the sons of light … and hate all the sons of darkness,” understanding the sons of light as members of their own sect and sons of darkness to be other Jews outside of their sect (Dead Sea Scrolls).

These sentiments do not derive from the Torah. Regarding the fellow-Jew, Torah explicitly says, “You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart” (Leviticus 19:17). The Torah requires a man to love even the stranger: “You shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). Instead of instructing people to hate their enemies, the Torah requires us to show kindness to enemies and assist them when they fall into difficulty (Exodus 23:5, Deuteronomy 23:7). The Proverbs say, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles” (Proverbs 24:17).

The Master brought a correction to those who tried to justify hatred for their enemies. He told His disciples that, if they want to enter the kingdom, they must love their enemies, bless them instead of cursing them, and do good to them instead of evil. He told His disciples to pray for their persecutors: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Rabbi Yeshua told His disciples that if they show love to their enemies, they prove themselves to be sons of their Father in Heaven:

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)

His disciples are to show men impartiality, just as God sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous and causes the sun to rise on both the wicked and the good. As the Talmud says, “The day of rainfall comes for both the righteous and for the wicked.” (b.Ta’anit 7a). So, too, Yeshua’s disciples must demonstrate kindness and civility to both friend and foe.

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