The juxtaposition between love and hate is fascinating. The relationship between love and hate has been a muse for poets, a conundrum for philosophers and a source of anxiety for psychologists. Many have said that love and hate are really two sides of the same emotion, perhaps because they are the two emotions that elicit the strongest overall sensations.
As with so many common statements of life-truths, the Talmud has something to say about the similarities of love and hate:
“[It was taught] on the authority of Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar: Love causes people to distort the norms of conduct. [This is deduced] from Abraham, for it is written (Genesis 22:3), ‘And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his donkey.’ Hate likewise causes people to distort the norms of conduct. [This is deduced] from Balaam, for it is written (Numbers 22:21), ‘And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his donkey’” (Talmud Sanhedrin 105b).
In the Torah, the phrase “rose up in the morning” implies a passionate desire to get something done. In the quoted Genesis 22, Abraham is most eager to fulfill God’s command to bring Isaac to the mountain. In Numbers 22, on the other hand, Balaam jumps at the opportunity to go and curse the Israelites. Even though both Abraham and Balaam had servants available who could saddle their animals, their eagerness to fulfill their vaunted missions caused them to get up early and saddle their own donkeys.
Rabbi Simeon’s comparison can be read as simply an interesting insight into the Torah. It can also be words of wisdom for individuals to live by. When a person is impassioned about a cause (or another person), whether due to a feeling of love or hate, he/she must be careful to pause before allowing those feelings to distort reality.