Gittin 54 - 60
The Hated Sin of Hatred
"Jerusalem was destroyed because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza." Thus begins this section of our Mesechta which is traditionally studied and discussed on Tisha B'Av when almost all other Torah study is forbidden. Other study is forbidden on Tisha B'Av because the joy one derives from learning Torah is inconsistent with that day's mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash.
Someone in Jerusalem made a feast to which he invited his friend Kamtza. The servant delivering the invitation mistakenly gave it instead to Bar Kamtza, who was an enemy of his master. Bar Kamtza, mistakenly assuming that he had been invited for the purpose of reconciliation, came to the affair. When the host saw Bar Kamtza he angrily asked him to leave. Bar Kamtza begged for the opportunity to stay, even offering to pay for his meal. His plea was refused even when he finally offered to pay for the entire feast, and he was forcibly ejected.
Bar Kamtza's fury at this humiliation was not directed at the host alone but also to "the rabbis who sat there and did not protest, indicating that they were in compliance with his action." He thereupon decided to avenge himself against the entire nation by perpetrating a blood libel that the Jews were in rebellion against the Romans. Thus began the Roman siege which ended in the tragedy of destruction.
The background for this story, suggests Maharsha, is the statement of the gemara (Mesechta Yoma 9b) about the sin which was responsible for the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash. The first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of the three gravest sins of idol worship, sexual immorality and murder. The Jews during the era of the second Beit Hamikdash, however, were pious in regard to Torah study, fulfillment of mitzvot and performance of kind deeds. Why then was their Beit Hamikdash destroyed as well? Because of the unjustified hatred of one for another. Unjustified hatred, concludes the gemara, is as weighty a cause for destruction as all the three gravest sins combined.
This is the sort of unjustified hatred shown by the host towards Bar Kamtza and that of Bar Kamtza towards the leaders he unjustly suspected of sharing that hatred. (Their lack of intervention, explains Maharsha, may have been because circumstances prevented them from doing so rather than an expression of complicity.)
But why is the name of Kamtza mentioned in the headline of this story, as if to suggest that he shared in the guilt of this tragedy? One approach is that the host was doubly angry because, not only did his enemy turn up at his party, but his good friend Kamtza did not. Kamtza's presence might have mitigated the hosts anger and prevented him from taking such vindictive action against Bar Kamtza. Kamtza probably heard about the party but refused to come because he had not received an invitation. When a good friend fails to come to a simcha because he didn't get an invitation, and does not give the host the benefit of the doubt that some mistake had been made, it is the beginning of the destruction of friendship which leads to unjustified hatred and tragedy.
- Gittin 55b
A Message to a Forefather
"For Your sake we are slaughtered all the time." (Tehillim 44:28) Rabbi Yehuda explains that this verse refers to the heroism of a mother and her seven sons during the time of Roman persecution.
As these sons were brought before the emperor and ordered to bow to his idol, each one bravely cited a passage from the Torah about monotheism and went to a heroic martyr's death. After six sons had thus sanctified the Name of Hashem, the emperor desperately tried to cajole the youngest, a mere child, into somehow pretending to obey his order. When even this son boldly rejected any effort to make even a pretense of abandoning his faith the emperor ordered his execution as well. He did accede, however, to the plea of the mother to kiss him farewell. She then whispered the following into his ear:
"Go my sons and tell your forefather Avraham in my name: 'You built one altar for your son and I built seven.' "
What at first seems to be a strange demonstration of pride at surpassing the patriarch is actually a profound lesson in history. Avraham was challenged with ten trials in which he amply proved his spiritual mettle. In the climactic one he was commanded to offer his beloved son Yitzchak as a sacrifice.
But were these indeed intended as tests of Avraham's loyalty? One of the approaches of the commentaries -- based on the Midrash that Hashem only tests those tzadikim of whom He is certain -- offers us a fascinating insight into the purpose of Avraham's ten trials. As the father of his people Avraham had the responsibility of being a spiritual trailblazer for his progeny. The challenges to which he was exposed were microcosms of those which would face his offspring throughout the generations. His success in meeting them -- whether they were in the nature of famine, exile, political persecution or the sacrifice of his own life or that of his son -- developed a strength in him which would be passed down through the genes of the Jewish People to form their genius of survival.
The message this noble mother sent to Avraham through her martyred children must therefore be understood in this way:
"Go, my sons, and tell our father Avraham the secret of how an ordinary woman like myself was capable of encouraging seven sons to die for Kiddush Hashem. It is only because he built one altar on which to offer Yitzchak that I was capable of inheriting his strength and courage to offer seven sacrifices."
Not pride was the message but a humble recognition of the source of her strength, the strength of her sons and her people.
- Gittin 57b