Monday, July 27, 2009


As we approach Tisha B'Av we strive to find ways of improving ourselves so that we can ensure that this is the last year without the Beis HaMikdosh. The famous Gemara in Gittin about Kamtza and Bar Kamtza teaches us a great deal about the cause of the churban (destruction) and what we need to rectify in order to bring about its rebuilding.

The gemara tells us that Yerushalayim was destroyed as a result of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. The gemara explains that an unnamed man was sworn enemies of Bar Kamtza, but friendly with Kamtza. He sent his servant to invite Kamtza to a seudah (meal) but he mistakenly invited Bar Kamtza. When he came to the seudah, the furious host demanded that he leave. Embarrassed, he offered to pay for his own meal in order to be allowed to stay. After being refused that offer, he eventually offered to pay half the costs of the whole seudah, but was instead thrown out. There were a number of Rabbis at the seudah who stayed quiet throughout his unpleasant incident. Indignant at their passivity, Kamtza proceeded to slander the Jewish people to the Roman authorities, which began the course of events that ended with the destruction.

The Iyun Yaakov zt"l asks why Kamtza is apportioned some of the blame for the events that led to the churban, he did nothing throughout the whole story. The Ben Ish Chai zt"l answers by suggesting that Kamtza was actually present at the seudah and witnessed the way that Bar Kamtza was treated. He could have prevented what happened by explaining the misunderstanding with the invitations. There is a principle that whoever has the ability to protest a wrongdoing and does not, it is considered as if he himself committed that wrongdoing. The Ben Ish Chai continues that this answer is even more compelling according to the Maharsha who writes that Bar Kamtza was the son of Kamtza. Accordingly, Kamtza was surely aware of the feud between his son and friend, and yet he did nothing to make peace between them. Because of his passivity, Kamtza is held partly responsible for the churban.

Furthermore, the Rabbis also seem to be held partially responsible for the course of events because they did nothing to prevent Bar Kamtza' s humiliation. Thus, there seems to be a common theme running through this story - that inaction and apathy allowed such terrible consequences to take place. Had any one of the people involved strived to prevent the injustices that took place, then the Beis HaMikdosh may not have been destroyed. Their attitude of apathy to the surrounding tragedies resulted in their passivity.

This lesson, that apathy was the cause of the churban Bayis sheini, seems to somewhat contradict the gemara in Yoma, that sinas chinam (baseless hatred) was the ultimate cause of the churban. However, on deeper analysis it seems that sinas chinam is not restricted to active hatred, it can also be understood to include apathy. We see this from the first time that the root word 'sina' is written in the Torah: In Parshas Vayetsei, after Yaakov Avinu married Rachel and Leah, the Torah tells us, "and Hashem saw that Leah was snuah (literally translated as hated)." The commentaries have great difficulty in understanding that Yaakov really hated Leah. Accordingly, the Ramban explains that when one has two wives, the one that he loves less is called the 'snuah' - he does not hate her, rather his love for her is weaker than that for his favorite. Based on this, the Ramban explains that Yaakov did not hate Leah, rather his love for her was lacking. Accordingly, we can understand that the word, sina, does not necessarily imply an active hatred, rather it can indicate a lack of sufficient care and love. Thus, the sinas chinam described in the gemara in Yoma need not necessarily be restricted to a virulent hatred, it can also include a sense of apathy and lack of concern for one's fellow.

In a similar vein, Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz zt"l writes that the sinas chinam described in the gemara does not refer to active hatred, rather it was the disinterest in preventing others from slipping into heretical views. He notes that many heretical sects had grown in that period, and he argues that this was a result of the absence of people willing to rebuke them. He exclaims, "Do you have a greater hater than this; one who sees his friend drowning in the river [of sin] and does not protest?!" Based on this redefinition of sina, it is clear that there is no contradiction between the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, and the gemara in Yoma. The sinas chinam referred to in Yoma does not only involve active hatred, rather it also includes a sense of apathy at the pain of one's fellow, and a refusal to help him grow spiritually.

The fact that the Beis HaMikdosh has not been rebuilt means that these flaws are still very much prevalent today and they apply to many areas of our lives. Whether it be in the realm of sharing another's pain, trying to help those less fortunate than ourselves, or striving to help the many people who are distant from Torah. This is a time of serious cheshbon hanefesh to assess our performance in these areas and to strive to improve in them in some way. May we all merit that this be the last Tisha B'Av or mourning that we endure.

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