Director of LILMOD and Head of the European Desk at Torah Mitzion
“Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘What is the meaning of the verse in The Book of “Mishlei” (Proverbs, 28) which reads: ‘Fortunate is the one who is always fearful, but the one who is hard of heart will suffer misfortune?’
It was because of ‘Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza’ that Yerushalayim was destroyed …” (Gittin 55b)
Not many Rabbinical stories (aggadot) were as fortunate as this one, since it is the most famous story related to the destruction of the Temple and arguably one of the most famous stories of the entire Talmud.
What more can their be said about this terrific and terrifying story?
One has always to believe that it is in his power to find a new understanding in the Torah.
I would like to tackle a classical question about the story – what is it that Kamtza did that deserves his name to be mixed with the reasons of one of our biggest historical catastrophes.
Let us remember that he was the man who was supposed to be invited at the feast but didn’t get the invitation, so obviously he never showed up. He didn’t take part in the whole story. What is so special about that story is that you can really blame many people: Bar Kamtza, the host of the feast, the rabbis who didn’t speak-up, Rabbi Zecharya ben Avikulas who didn’t see the Pikuach Nefesh that should cancel other halachot, the Romans, even the mail man who mixed the names. Nearly every person in the story has a share of the responsibility. But Kamtza just stayed home – how could he be blamed?
Different answers have been suggested, and they are of course completely valid, but I would like to share my thoughts about it.
I understand Rav Yochanan’s words differently. I don’t think he is telling us who’s to blame. Like we said, the list is long. When he says that “because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza the temple was destroyed” he is talking to his students who live generations later, in Eretz Israel which is by then completely weakened politically and emptied of most its the Torah scholars.
He is telling them – “You know how we came from the splendid Temple with Kehuna, with the Sanhedrin, with huge Jewish cities, to this, to our situation today? No huge event happened that shook everything to its core. No, no! Much rather a simple mistake between the names Kamtza and Bar Kamtza unleashed a series of events which will by itself destroy everything. This was all that was needed. Such a small thing like a mix-up between two names”
This is what he means when he talks about the passuk “Fortunate is the one who is always fearful”
Because this is the real danger of sinat chinam. It is like filling a room with gunpowder. For a long while nothing will happen but all that is needed is a small spark and the whole place can blow-up.
We can also note that besides Kamtza, another character is also missing from the story – Hashem himself. There is no sin-punishment narrative. It is simply a story where everyone is focused on hurting the other, even if he gets hurt in the process.
I’ve always thought of the First World War as being a strong historical example of that. Even though the murder of the Heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne is by no means a small event, the resulting 4 years of war, killing millions and affecting hundreds of millions is by no means a logical consequence of that murder. But the sinat chinam of the world powers on the eve of WWI was such that even a relatively “minor” event was all that was needed to unleash a war whose results can still very much be felt today.
Only later I realized that the 1st of August 1914, which is the beginning of the War, was actually Tisha Be’av.
Last year I realized something much more important. Our Sages have taught us that everything that is true about disasters (midat puranot) is much more so about good events (mida tova). Last year we could see that such a spark that ignites a tremendous chain reaction is also possible with ahavat chinam. It was sadly because of a tragedy but the fact is that last summer a tremendous wave of ahavat chinam was unleashed here in Israel and all over the Jewish world.
Let’s hope for more waves like that which will only stem from good occasions.