According to tradition, the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were both destroyed on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. The closer we get to this day of mourning the more we hear about the need to eradicate Sin’at Chinam and promote its antidote Ahavat Chinam, Selfless Love. We hear of the need to love humanity, for we are all G-d’s creatures. We witness calls for pluralism, the erosion of hatred and the need to uphold and encourage harmonious relationships with each other regardless of race, color or creed.
Before we go on with this noble message of Kumbaya, let us clarify a few conceptions and remove misconceptions.
Firstly, the term, the notion of Sin’at Chinam is associated with Jews and Am Yisrael only. It is our legacy and its lesson is directed primarily at our process of evolution as a nation.
It all started with a mistake, a mistake that took place two thousand years ago. There was a wealthy Jerusalemite who decided to host a party. He had a close friend by the name of Kamtza and an enemy by the name of Bar-Kamtza. As it was an important event, invitations were hand delivered by a messenger. Due to the similarities of the names of foe and friend, the confused messenger erroneously delivered the invitation to the wrong person.
Bar-Kamza must have regarded the invitation as a goodwill gesture by the host and was happy to receive it. He decided to respond in kind, put their past differences behind and showed up at the party.
When the host realized who his guest was, he became incensed. He ordered Bar-Kamza to leave the party. The latter pleaded with him and was even ready to cover the costs of the party. The host, however, clung to his hatred and refused. Some of those in attendance were the sages of the generation. None of them came to Bar-Kamza’s defense and, through their silence, even seemed to have sided with the host.
Consumed by pain, Bar-Kamza went to the Romans and told them that the Jews were planning a rebellion against them. In an effort to crush such an effort, the Romans destroyed the Temple and banished the Jews from the Eretz Yisrael.
To claim, as some do, that, the message of this sordid affair is a universal one, is one misconception. Unfortunately, it was a lesson aimed only at the Jewish people. It highlighted the lack of humanity of some Jews from their most learned scholars to their common ones, towards their fellow Jews first and foremost. Moreover, the only ones that paid dearly for that appalling experience were the Jewish people with two thousand years of exile laced with affliction and strife.
As in other periods in the history of Am Yisrael and the Jewish people, G-d put stumbling blocks on His people’s path. It was part of their ongoing refinement process which is aimed at abiding their special role in history, that of being a “Light to the Nations.”
It is initially only for us, Jews and members of Am Yisrael, to master the lesson of Kamza and Bar-Kamza, for that lesson was designed for and is directed only at us. It is our duty to show that we care enough about our fellow Jews first and make a positive difference in the lives of our own people. We must show sensitivity to their needs and treat them with dignity.
It is only after we have reached that level of holiness and purification that we can take that lesson outside and share it with the rest of the world.