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Tisha B'Av

Friday, 9 August, 2019 - 1:13 pm

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This column was shared a few years ago.
The lessons are as pertinent today as they were then.

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The Banquet
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I was attending a wedding approximately 18 years ago in Seattle. Everyone was in a jovial, happy mood. The joy and spirit was palpable and the music and food were wonderful. After a time, a Rabbi, who was in town from Israel, entered the wedding (uninvited) and made his way around the room quietly soliciting donations for his cause. One of the hosts approached him and asked him to leave. I overheard this exchange and immediately said to the host, “He can have my seat and portion of the meal. I am fine.” I beckoned the Rabbi to my seat. The host, though initially taken aback, later acknowledged me for my sensitivity.

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A Time of Mourning and Reflection
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Today is the 8th day of the month Menachem Av (Friday, August 9, 2019), which is followed by the Fast of Tisha B’Av . This year, the 9th of Av is on Shabbat, so the fast is delayed by one day and starts at sunset the 9th and concludes Sunday evening. The first Nine Days of the month of Av is a time where we relive and remember the Holy Temples (First and Second) and mourn their devastating destruction, which BOTH happened on Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av) approximately 400 years apart. The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the second by the Romans. 

Talmud Gittin 55-2 says, “The incident which led to the destruction of the Second Temple:

As a result of the incident involving Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed. A certain man, who had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza, made a banquet. He told his attendant, ‘Go and bring Kamtza to join me at the banquet.’ The attendant went and mistakenly brought him Bar Kamtza. When the host arrived at the banquet and found Bar Kamtza sitting there, he said to Bar Kamtza, ‘Look here, you are the enemy of me, what do you want here? Get up and get out!’ Bar Kamtza said to him, ‘Since I have come, let me stay, - and I will give you the value of whatever I eat and drink.’

The host said to Bar Kamtza, ‘No, I will not let you stay!’

Bar Kamtza responded, ‘I will give you the value of half your banquet.’

Again, the host said no.

Bar Kamtza said, ‘I will give you the value of your entire banquet.’

The host said, ‘No!’ and grabbed hold of Bar Kamtza with his hand, stood him up and ejected him from the banquet.

Bar Kamtza said to himself that the Rabbis who were seated at the banquet did not rebuke [the host] for the way he treated me, -it is evident that what [the host] did was acceptable to them. I will go and spread slander against the Rabbis in the royal palace.

He went and told Caesar, ‘The Jews have rebelled against you!’

Caesar said to him, ‘Who says so?’

Bar Kamtza said, ‘Send them an animal as a sacrifice and see whether they offer it in their Temple!’

Caesar went and sent a fine calf with Bar Kamtza. As he was going to Jerusalem, Bar Kamtza caused a blemish in the calf’s upper lip. The blemish was in a place where it is considered a blemish for us, i.e. for offering in the Temple, but is not considered a blemish for them, i.e. for offering outside the Temple. Although the animal was unfit to be offered in the Temple, the Rabbis considered offering it for the sake of peaceful relations with the Roman government. R’ Zechariah ben Avkulas said to them, ‘But people will then say that blemished animals may be offered on the Altar!’ The Rabbis considered putting Bar Kamtza to death, so that he would not be able to go and tell Caesar that the offering had been refused. R’ Zechariah said to them, ‘But people will then say that one who blemishes consecrated animals is put to death!’

R’ Yochanan said, ‘The tolerance displayed by R’ Zechariah ben Akvulas in refusing to have Bar Kamtza put to death destroyed our Temple, burned down our sanctuary and exiled us from our land.’”

The Macharam Schif clarifies: “In fact, the destruction of the Temple had already been Divinely decreed. This incident was effective only in causing the destruction to take place at that particular time.” The Maharsha adds, “Alternatively: Only the exile had already been decreed (as punishment for the unwarranted hatred that festered among the people). As far as the Temple was concerned, Caesar would have spared it had his sacrifice been offered in it. Now that his sacrifice was refused, he decided to destroy the Temple, arguing that it served him no purpose.”

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Baseless Hatred
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The Gemara, Yoma 9b states: “In the era of the second Temple, the people studied Torah and performed Mitvos, so why was the second Temple destroyed? Because there was baseless hatred among the people.”

The first Temple was destroyed because of, “three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed. (Yoma 9b). The second Temple was destroyed because, “Therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of equal gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.” (Yoma 9b).

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Love
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The Torah records, following the birth of the twins Esau and Jacob– Parshas Toldos - their relationship was strained to the point of animosity. “Now Esau harbored hatred toward Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself (Parashas Toldos 27/41): ‘The days of mourning for my father will draw near, then I will kill my brother Jacob.’”  Rivkah, their mother seeing the hatred that Esau had toward Jacob, sent Jacob away. “So now, my son, heed my voice and arise; flee to my brother Laban, to Haran. And dwell with him for a few days until your brother’s wrath subsides.”

Jacob dwelled with Laban for many years. He married two of Laban’s daughters and had many sons. The time came for him to return to his father Isaac and the Land of Canaan. 31/17, “Jacob arose and lifted his sons and his wives onto the camels. He led away all of his livestock and all his possessions that he had amassed.” On his return to the Land of Seir “Jacob sent angels before him to Esau.” “The angels returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother, to Esau; moreover, he is heading toward you, and four hundred men are with him. And Jacob became very frightened, and it distressed him. He took, from that which had come into his hand, a tribute to Esau his brother: She-goats, two hundred, and he-goats, twenty; ewes, two hundred, and rams, twenty; nursing camels and their young, thirty; cows, forty, and bulls, ten; she-donkeys, twenty, and he-donkeys, ten. He instructed his servants saying, ‘When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, “Whose are you, where are you going, and to whom are these that are before you?” You shall say, “Your servant’s, Jacob’s. It is a tribute sent to my lord Esau, and behold he, too, is behind us.”’(Parashas Vayishlach 32/4-9). Rashi elucidates that, “Jacob readied himself for three things: for paying tribute, for prayer and for war.”

Parashas Vayishlach 33/1, “Jacob raised his eyes and saw- and behold, Esau was coming, and with him, four hundred men… He went on ahead of them and bowed earthward seven times until he reached his brother. Esau ran toward him, and he embraced him, and fell upon his neck; and kissed him; and they wept.” Rashi elucidates on “He embraced him.” The Tanna R’ Shimon bar Yochai said: “It is a given fact that it is known that Esau hates Jacob, but his mercy was warmed at that time, and he kissed him with all of his heart.”

The Torah records that they went their separate ways at that time and Jacob did not have to resort to defense of his family from an attack from Esau.

A more recent example of what the effect of love and compassion on a hateful soul can accomplish we can see from the events which transpired a few years ago when a young man named Dylan Roof walked into a bible study group in South Carolina and opened fire, killing nine people and wounding three. In the aftermath of the shooting, authorities said they found a racist manifesto Roof had posted on his website and modified just hours before the rampage. This site was filled with racial stereotypes and diatribes against black, Jewish and Hispanic people. What you might not remember are his words after the fact. From a Washington Post article dated June 19, 2015:

“Yet Roof also acknowledged to authorities that he had briefly reconsidered his plan during the time he spent with the Bible study group after entering the building, two people briefed on the investigation said.

‘Roof said he, “almost didn’t go through with it because they were so nice to him,’”

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 “Arise and Renew”- Rambam
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Tradition tells us that the Moshiach is born on Tisha B’Av. Let us re-double our efforts in love and sensitivity to each other to undo the baseless hatred which caused the destruction of the Temples. To hasten that perfected time, we must be aware that our actions have an ability to change the course of the world, and we should heighten our sensitivity and respect in a non-judgmental approach to our fellow man by embracing even those whom we don’t otherwise agree with or understand.

May we merit the time about which the Rambam writes: “In the future, the Messianic King will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, returning it to its initial sovereignty. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel.” (Chapter 11 Hilchot Melachim)

As Isaiah 11:9 states, “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the sea fills the ocean bed.”
 

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