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Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is the national Jewish day of mourning. Tisha b’Av commemorates a great number of calamities in Jewish history, but we focus primarily on the destruction of Jerusalem and the two Holy Temples that were both destroyed on the ninth of Av.

One of the central readings related to Tisha b’Av is the story of Mr. Kamtza and Mr. Bar Kamtza, with some commentators blaming these two for the entire destruction of Jerusalem. Here’s the story:

There was once a man (the Talmud does not tell us his name) who liked Kamtza, but hated Bar Kamtza. One day he threw a party and instructed his servant to invite and bring Kamtza to the party. But the servant, mistakenly, brought Bar Kamtza instead.

When the host of the party saw his enemy Bar Kamtza sitting at a table, he furiously ordered him to leave. Bar Kamtza turned to the host and pleaded: “Please let me stay. I’ll pay for whatever I eat and drink.” But the host refused.

“I’ll pay for half of the entire party, just please let me stay,” Bar Kamtza pleaded, but the host still refused.

“OK, I’ll pay for the entire affair, just please let me stay”, he begged. Again, the host refused, and he had Bar Kamtza forcibly removed.

Bar Kamtza felt that since great rabbis were present, watching the scene unravel but failing to come to his defense, they, too, were responsible for the humiliation he suffered. In his anger, Bar Kamtza went and slandered his people to the Caesar, claiming that the Jews were rebelling against him.

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A woman cries on Tisha B’av at the Western Wall, praying for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. (lev-lalev.org)

“Can you prove this?” the Caesar asked.

“Yes. Send a sacrifice to be offered at the Temple, and you’ll see, the Jews wont sacrifice it”, Bar Kamtza responded.

The Caesar sent a calf to be offered at the Holy Temple, but Bar Kamtza secretly slit its lip, causing it to be blemished and thereby disqualified to be sacrificed in the Temple. Therefore, as “predicted,” the animal was not sacrificed. Caesar was convinced that the Jewish were rebelling and sent his armies to destroy Jerusalem.

The commentators discuss this story at great length. It is explained that even if Jerusalem were not destroyed specifically due to the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza story, it was definitely destroyed due to the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza “disease,” namely, sinat chinam, baseless hatred. Hating another person for no good reason. Refusing to try and make amends. Think about it- Bar Kamtza was willing to pay for the entire party! Imagine the amount of money the host could have saved simply by allowing Bar Kamtza to stay! But no. No to reconciliation. No to saving money. No to financial savings. No to behaving diplomatically and saving someone from embarrassment. Senseless and baseless hatred. And when anger takes over, there’s no end to the destruction that can ensue.

Our sages tell us that if we cease hating each other for no reason, and if we start loving each other for no reason, then we will merit to see the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. I’m sure willing to donate a “brick” of “baseless love” for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. I hope you’ll join me!

by Rabbi Ari Enkin