You were born to change the world – but do YOU know that?
This week we commemorated the saddest day of our nation’s history, when both our holy Temples were destroyed on Tisha B’Av, the story behind their destruction is surprisingly empowering and inspiring.
The Talmud reveals to us the event that provoked the Roman Empire to send her overwhelming military might to destroy Jerusalem and end Jewish Sovereignty in the Promised Land for nearly 2000 years.
It started with the celebration of a wealthy Jerusalem resident who sent invitations to his party. The mailman erroneously invited a man by the name of Bar Kamtza, a sworn enemy of the host, instead of the host’s friend, Kamza. Though he was initially suspicious, Bar Kamtza figured that the host was burying the hatchet and decided to graciously do the same. When he showed up, however, the host, who was shocked to see his enemy at his celebration, proceeded to humiliate his enemy and had him unceremoniously thrown out from the event in front of all the honored guests and Sages.
Bar Kamtza was seething. He was particularly angry with the Sages who didn’t protest to defend his dignity. He thought up the ultimate revenge by slandering the Jews to Caesar, claiming that “Judea has rebelled against you.”
Caesar proceeded to test the authenticity of this claim by sending a sheep to be offered in the Jewish Temple, from himself. Should the Jews offer his sheep on the altar, the claim would be revealed as false. Should they decline, the slander would be proven as true.
As Bar Kamza delivered the sheep to Jerusalem he made a tiny blemish on the lip of the sheep, rendering it unfit for the altar according to Jewish Law. When the Sages prepared to offer it upon the altar, they declared it blemished and unfitting for the Temple. They proposed that it be offered anyways so as not to invoke the wrath of Caesar to which Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkulas, a holy sage, responded that if they did so, people would say that blemished animals are permitted upon the Altar. When they suggested killing Bar Kamtza so that he would not report back to Caesar, the same Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkulas said that if so, people would say that “one who blemishes an animal destined for the altar is worthy of death.”
Ultimately, Bar Kamtza reported that the Jews declined the offering. Caesar was infuriated and proceeded to send his military to destroy the Holy Land. Thus the Talmud concludes that ‘the humility of Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkulas caused the destruction of our Temple.”
And we are left puzzled trying to understand the meaning of the Talmud’s enigmatic closing statement.
Why was the destruction of our Temple the fault of Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkulas? What about the inhospitable host of the party, the apathy of the Sages, and the treachery of Bar Kamtza? Why are we shooting the messenger, the innocent rabbi who simply stated the Torah’s ruling on blemished offerings? And even if we do choose to blame him, then why do we speak of his humility? If anything, it was his stubbornness or rigidity. But where do we see any trace of humility? To the untrained eye, it seems as if the Talmud has the story a little mixed up.
It is here that the Rebbe provides us with an explanation so profound that it illuminates our lives today, 60 years after he taught it:
The Jews of 2000 years ago simply didn’t believe in themselves. They felt themselves to be a tiny screw in a massive engine, the consequences of whose actions were insignificant and of little to no impact. Had the host of the party believed that his hostility would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem; had the Sages felt that their apathy towards the shame of Bar Kamtza would incite the fury of Rome; had the Rabbis of the Temple understood that their barring Caeser’s sheep from the Temple would result in the burning of the Holy Temple, they would have acted much differently. They simply didn’t believe in their power and influence on the world around them. They were too small in their own perception to believe that their choices could change their destiny.
Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkula with his legal rulings was merely the representation of this mentality. Thus, the Talmud blames the destruction squarely upon his humility, and by extension, the humility of all of his peers.
And just like our Temple was destroyed because we refused to believe in our power, our Temple will be rebuilt, with the coming of Moshaich, when we consent to our greatness and our power. When we begin to believe in ourselves, in the fact that G-d chose us for greatness and that we were placed in this world because we matter; that is when we are empowered to make mindful choices
Marianne Williamson said that “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”
If our exile was brought about by failing to believe in ourselves, our redemption will be brought about through embracing our self worth, our impact, and our ability to change the world!
Our greatest leader Moses was curiously raised in the palace of the most vicious anti-Semite of his time, the wicked Pharaoh. It seems counter-intuitive that G-d would allow his holiest prophet to be raised in such an evil home! But now it all makes perfect sense. It’s only when you feel that you are a prince that you can muster the courage to change the world! To free your people from slavery, you need to believe that you were born to be great! Like Moses in the royal palace, we are all sons and daughters of Hashem.
“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.”
Your heartfelt prayer, your Torah study, your mindful words and thoughtful actions can tip the scales of destiny and make this world shine the light for which it was destined.
You were born to shine and thus have a unique part to play in the healing of the world.
Wishing you a month of believing in the power of YOU.