Why is the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza located in Maseches Gittin? Rabbi Moshe Schwerd, well-known maggid shiur and speaker, spoke to a packed audience on Tish’ah B’Av at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel. He shared many interesting ideas about the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, and he offered practical take-away lessons. The Churban is like a divorce, so this story is placed in Maseches Gittin. However, it’s not found in the perek with divorce issues, but it is in a perek that tells about how to make restitution for damages. This teaches that the Churban is only a damage. Ultimately, Hashem will make restitution and we will be able to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash, so that is why the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is in this section of the Gemara.
Rabbi Schwerd pointed out that the villains in the story include Kamtza, Bar Kamtza, and the host of the party. Kamtza seems to be innocent, so why is he mentioned? Kamtza is equally guilty in the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. The Maharsha explains that Kamtza was the father and Bar Kamtza was the son. Kamtza had the ability to stop the host, who was his good friend, from sending Bar Kamtza away. Yet, Kamtza did nothing, so he became partners in the crime. “One becomes culpable for consequences he or she could have prevented,” Rabbi Schwerd explained.
He noted that the Gemara says that Yerushalayim was destroyed because the Jews didn’t give each other tochachah. There is an American sickness, Rabbi Schwerd pointed out, of “mind your own business.” This is not the Jewish way. This problem of not admonishing each other is alive today.
Also, there is a question of should a friend come to a simchah uninvited? Some say don’t go unless you are invited. Others learn that the best friend should assume he is invited and should show up without an invitation. If Kamtza hadn’t stood on ceremony, needing an invitation, then the problem of the invitation being sent to the wrong person never would have happened.
Yerushalayim was the symbol of unity. “It was the central area where everyone brought korbanos. It facilitated unity.” Kamtza’s name represents division, separation. It comes from the word kamitza, which is the name for when the kohen separated the flour in the korban. The names Kamtza and Bar Kamtza were symbolic of the sin of the generation. They were both outstanding in causing division and destruction.
Human nature is that when people have friction, people divide into sides and machlokes ensues. Kamtza’s machlokes was masquerading as love for his friend.
When Bar Kamtza was thrown out of the party, he was so angry, he went to Caesar and told him the Jews are revolting and he put a blemish on a calf’s lip and then told Caesar to offer it to the Temple.
Rabbi Schwerd pointed out that whenever Hashem is angry at us, he punishes us for the sin of the Golden Calf, so we see a calf was the korban here. Also, it was blemished on the lip to teach that we were being punished for lashon ha’ra. According to the Magen Avraham, when Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkulas, the gadol ha’dor at the time of the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash, ruled that Caesar’s korban could not be brought to the Beis HaMikdash, his sin of humility caused the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Rabbi Schwerd explained that there was still a chance that the Beis HaMikdash could be saved if Caesar saw his korban was taken, but when he saw that it was rejected, that was the trigger that caused him to destroy it. Rashi explains that Rabbi Zechariah was humble and he couldn’t imagine that Caesar would take it personally if he couldn’t take his korban. He failed to understand that people weren’t like him. Rabbi Zechariah was a kohen. He saw the mum, and he realized this decision was so important. He didn’t want to make the decision on his own. This was a case of excessive humility. He didn’t appreciate that he was the gadol ha’dor and he could make the decision. Instead, he told someone to bring it to the Sanhedrin for the final decision. The Roman guards saw them walking the calf towards the Sanhedrin and they just took it back to the Caesar and said it was rejected. Rabbi Zechariah was concerned that people would say that he did the wrong thing. He didn’t understand his own stature and that he could make an exception in this case. He wouldn’t stand up for what he understood, and that led to the destruction.
Another opinion from Rav Zelig Epstein was that Rabbi Zechariah didn’t think it was a case of pikuach nefesh. He reasoned that the prophecy already came that Yerushalayim would be destroyed, so it didn’t matter about this sh’eilah. Rabbi Schwerd explained that it would have made a difference, because when a prophecy is for good it will always come true, and when it’s for something negative it can be turned over because of t’shuvah.
Rabbi Schwerd listed three take-away lessons:
These events teach us that our decision must consider future consequences of our actions.
A mistaken sense of self, like excessive humility, and not appreciating what we can achieve, can have dire consequences. Kamtza could have protested. The spies had an incorrect self-perception. They looked at themselves like grasshoppers. This was the generation that came out of Egypt and got the Torah. We need to appreciate that we are Hashem’s children. We have to stand up and give tochachah if we see people doing the wrong thing.
The Beis HaMikdash was destroyed in heaven and the primary sin was lashon ha’ra.
During the siege of Yerushalayim, the enemy shot an arrow in every direction and it kept landing towards Yerushalayim. This was a clear sign that the enemy would win. The arrow teaches us that lashon ha’ra is like an arrow. Though there was much Torah and t’filah, Rav Yochanan said that the Torah and t’filah were stained with lashon ha’ra.
Rabbi Schwerd taught that only lashon ha’ra is powerful enough to destroy the Beis HaMikdash. “The nuclear bomb we have is our tongue. It is the most destructive thing we own.”
He taught that because the neshamah expresses itself through speech, speech is the most powerful thing. “A spiritual thing can only be destroyed by something spiritual.”
The purpose of the galus in Egypt was to fix our speech. “If we have lashon ha’ra, we don’t have g’ulah.” He continued: “Words are powerful, and if you say something it will have an effect.”
Rabbi Schwerd concluded that the only way we will have Mashiach is from Hashem. We have to daven accordingly. We need some intensity in our davening when we ask for Yerushalayim to be rebuilt. T’filah is powerful. We have to make sure our t’filah and Torah is not tainted with lashon ha’ra.
“Next year, Tish’ah B’Av should be with Mashiach.”
By Susie Garber