Both the United States and Israeli news media have been reporting over the last several weeks similar news: rising rates of infection, governmental difficulty in devising an effective strategy to control the spread of the virus, increased economic hardship across large swaths of the population, anger among the citizenry, civil unrest, and even violent protests. At a time in human history when unity of purpose and action is needed most, citizens and their governments in both countries are at odds. There is a highly acerbic tone to the discourse; a tone that is not only disrespectful, but one that conveys hatred.
The Talmud in Yoma (9b) teaches that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because the Jewish People violated the three cardinal sins: idol worship, promiscuity, and bloodshed. The second Beit Hamikdash, however, explains this Talmudic passage, was destroyed not because of a violation of a religious practice but rather because of sinat chinom, wanton hatred among the Jewish People. The Talmud concludes, “This comes to teach you that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the three cardinal sins.”
In another Talmudic passage, one that is permitted to be studied on Tisha Baav when Torah study is prohibited, the Talmud in Gitten (55b) relates a troubling story of a Jew who hated another Jew by the name of Kamtza. This same man was friends with another gentleman by the name of Bar Kamtza. The Talmud tells of a large party which the man threw to which he invited many guests and rabbis. Lo and behold, and much to his chagrin, when he arrived at his party he found his enemy Kamtza had been invited by mistake and was sitting among the other invited guests. The host, overcome by his hatred for Kamtza, refused to allow Kamza to remain. In front all the assembled guests he demanded that Kamtza leave immediately. He refused Kamtza’s pleas that he not be disgraced in such a cruel fashion, but his pleas were dismissed. Kamtza was banished from the party as the rabbis watched silently and without objection. This painful incident, explains the Talmud, was the cause for the Almighty’s destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.
This Tisha Baav I will not be able to attend services in my own Beit Hamikdash Me’aat, my own synagogue. I will commemorate Tisha Baav at home where I will read Eicha and kinot by myself. Thus, this year of the pandemic will make my Tisha Baav very personal. Tisha Baav’s lessons should also be highly relevant this year for all of us.
This is a moment in time when all of mankind, literally, is confronted with a common enemy, when people of all types need to unite, help one another to cope, to care for those in need, to protect each other from infection, to provide support to those in need of financial assistance, and to show an extra measure of compassion and understanding. Tisha Baav during the pandemic, however is coming at a time of increasing conflict and discord. Conflicts over masks, conflicts over pandemic restrictions, conflicts over economic stimulus programs, over politics, over discrimination, conflicts and more conflicts. Everywhere you turn, whether Chicago or Portland, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, sinat chinom reigns.
We as Jews, know better. We know that sinat chinom brings destruction and achdut, unity, brings redemption. We know better. We should act better, as well.