11 Cheshvan 5781 / Thursday, October 29, 2020 | Torah Reading: Lech Lecha
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Kamtza and Bar Kamtza    

Kamtza and Bar Kamtza

Humiliated, Bar Kamtza ran to the Romans and claimed that the Jews were rebelling, beginning a series of events which ended with the destruction of the Holy Temple...



The Talmud says:
"Come and see how great the strength of embarrassment is, that The Holy One, Blessed is He, helped Bar Kamtza, and destroyed His house and burned His courtyard." (Gittin 57a).
The story of Bar Kamtza is a bizarre one. Just before the destruction of the Second Temple, a certain man in Jerusalem made a feast and invited all of his friends, which included Kamtza. However, he happened to have an enemy whose name was Bar Kamtza, whom he did not want to invite at all. However, as Divine Providence would have it, the messenger in charge of inviting people erred, and invited Bar Kamtza instead.
To Bar Kamtza it appeared that the invitation was a peace-offering, a way to end the quarrel. However, at the feast itself, the host, upon noticing his enemy, came to promptly eject him from his simcha. Bar Kamtza, realizing that an error had been made and that peace was not at the top of the man's priorities, offered to pay for his meal to avoid being thrown out. However, the host would hear nothing of it. Fearing humiliation, Bar Kamtza offered to pay for half the meal. "NO!" came the reply. "How about the WHOLE feast!" offered Bar Kamtza, to which the host responded by throwing him out in humiliation.
Angry and humiliated, Bar Kamtza ran to the Roman authorities and claimed the Jews were rebelling. The Romans investigated the situation, and became convinced that indeed, the Jews had not subordinated themselves to the Roman will. This marked the beginning of the end of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Second Jewish Commonwealth.
And all because Bar Kamtza was humiliated?
How is it possible that G-d could punish the whole nation because of one person, and a person who could instigate the Romans at that!
The Talmud hints at the answer. On the way out, while Bar Kamtza was suffering terrible embarrassment, no one at the feast got up to defend him. Even the wise men who had been present at the feast didn't reprimand the host for doing what the Talmud teaches one ought to jump into a fire for rather than commit. How could they have become so insensitive to the plight of a fellow Jew?
However it happened, the Talmud warns, such insensitivity leads to tremendous destruction. The incident of Bar Kamtza may have been an isolated one, and a small one (Kamtza means "small," Bar Kamtza means the "son of small thing," which is even smaller) but it revealed an insensitivity that was bound to grow and show up in other area of spiritual importance. When spiritual insensitivity festers it poisons the entire mind, until one's belief in G-d becomes terribly distorted. It is THIS that leads to Temples being destroyed and the destruction of the Jewish people.
Tisha B'Av is a day that comes to wake us up to reality, and to re-sensitize us. All of the mourning and "activities" of the day are meant to refocus us so that we can reverse the trend of insensitivity. And to do this is to begin, and to complete the process of building the third and final Temple, hopefully in our lifetimes.
(Author, lecturer, and scholar Rabbi Pinchas Winston is the director of ThirtySix.org)

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