Here are some thoughts that help me to love my enemies:
1. I do a weekly quiet time on holy days and weekly Sabbaths. Yesterday, on the Day of Atonement, I studied I Samuel 1. The Encyclopedia Judaica‘s article on Peninnah says the following about Elkanah’s wife Peninnah, who had lots of children and taunted Elkanah’s childless wife, Hannah:
“[Peninnah] was…ultimately punished. Two of her children died whenever Hannah gave birth; and she thus witnessed the death of eight of her ten children. The last two were spared solely as a result of Hannah’s intercession with the Almighty on her behalf (PR, ibid., 182a).
That’s horrible! Whenever Hanna had a child, two of Peninnah’s kids died. There are plenty of people I can’t stand, but I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy!
Isn’t that what forgiveness is, in part? Freeing our enemies from punishment?
2. As I was fasting yesterday, some hateful thoughts entered my mind. I can be pretty mean when I’m hungry! But my hunger reminded me that I share something with the rest of humanity: I need to eat to survive. And the same is true of my enemies. That insight tended to make them more vulnerable and human in my eyes, so I didn’t hate them as much at that moment. But it also made me look more human. I often see myself as righteous, and my enemies as sub-human sinners. Not so! We’re all human beings, with the same needs.
I encountered the same idea this morning, when I read Sirach 8:4-7:
“Do not make fun of one who is ill-bred, or your ancestors may be insulted. Do not reproach one who is turning away from sin; remember that we all deserve punishment. Do not disdain one who is old, for some of us are also growing old. Do not rejoice over any one’s death; remember that we must all die.”
We’re all human! We sin, we grow old, and we die. So who are we to look down on someone else? We can hope that the other person chooses a better path, but we shouldn’t vaunt ourselves, as if we’re superior. All of us are vulnerable.