Rosally Saltsman

The Principle of the Thing (Tisha B’Av)

Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed. The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is a narrative with many many actors. All of whom, in their own way, contributed to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people. And they did so not only because of baseless hatred, though it didn’t seem baseless at all in their eyes, because of the principle of the thing. All of the actors in this drama were people of principle. And all of them are mentioned because of their contribution to the devastating result.

We don’t understand how Bar Kamtza was invited to the dinner instead of Kamtza, and mistakes happen. And we can understand why the host didn’t want him there. We don’t get along with everyone. And this is a time when, well, many people didn’t get along. But the rest of the story reads like Chad Gadya on steroids.

The host embarrassed Bar Kamtza in front of the crème de la crème of Jerusalem society but, he thought, it’s the principle of the thing, he didn’t want this man at his party period, even if he offered to pay for the whole thing, which he did.

The Sages and spiritual leaders of the generation let this happen, they didn’t protest, they said nothing. Why? Let’s assume there was some principle involved here too – not to offend their host, not to make waves, maybe they didn’t like Bar Kamtza either.

So now, humiliated and angry, and also, a man of principle, Bar Kamtza is going to get revenge. Inasmuch as embarrassing someone in public is akin to murder, it makes sense. He goes to the reigning Caesar and says, the nation is rebelling against him. Now, interestingly enough, the monarch actually acts wisely, he doesn’t take it at face value, he questions Bar Kamtza. What makes him say that? Bar Kamtza suggests to offer a sacrifice and he’ll see it will be rejected. This is where Caesar loses me. What would make this be an act of rebellion per se? And why does he send the sacrifice with Bar Kamtza, doesn’t it occur to him that Bar Kamtza, who is being a Benedict Arnold against his own people, might have some agenda? But he sends the sacrifice along with Bar Kamtza, who then invalidates it. He brings it to the Kohanim. The Kohanim want to either offer the sacrifice as is or kill Bar Kamtza, either of which would save the Jewish people, but Rabbi Zachariah insists on going by the book, on principle and refuses both options along with the sacrifice. This is enough to convince Caesar that there’s trouble afoot and the rest is bloody and tragic history, that we are still suffering from.

Every single person in this story could have ended the potential tragedy by just not sticking to his guns. At every step along the way, one of the protagonists could have averted the terrible tragedy, the awful decree, in which he himself ended up suffering. But they didn’t. It was a matter of principle. Principles are great, and sometimes you do have to die for them. But not in this story.

Flash forward a couple of thousand years to a country divided on principle. Like in the Kamtza/Bar Kamtza story there were issues at stake, some even valid. And it’s not the first time since then either. Each side accusing the other, that it was them that was destroying democracy, peace, and the Jewish/Zionist dream. Blocking roads, destroying property, hurling insults, and sometimes more, waving flags and ideologies.

Exactly like with the expulsion of Gush Katif, that happened, in the recent past, which caused so much heartache, divided the country, and came to absolutely zero benefit to anybody except our enemies. Because like with Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, when we have internal strife and conflict, our enemies are the only ones who prevail.

Yes each time one side seemingly wins a round. But at what cost?

Before we are left and right, religious or secular, settlers or city dwellers, we are Jews. We are brothers and sisters. We are family. We are blood, and when we forget that, we are our own worst enemies, spilling our own blood.

It’s nice that we all are very emotionally attached to Israel. But one of our rights to this Land is dependent on our responsibility and love for one another. And each of us, like each person in the Talmud’s narrative is responsible to ensure this.

Each group, the religious and the secular, the left and the right, the settlers and the city dwellers, the sabras and the olim from every wave of Aliyah have contributed to the Israel we know today, in all its glory, in all its miraculousness, in all its imperfections.

What if the unthinkable happened and we all went out tonight and rallied around each other, demonstrated unconditional love, at all the intersections, on all the highways and blocked all the roads with a giant group hug. Just for the principle of the thing. I truly believe that the final redemption would be a reality by sunrise and we would all be raising the flag on the Third Temple by midday. And by evening, the other half of the Jewish people would join us from the four corners of the world, at a different type of feast than the one that started all this mayhem and tragedy.

Now wouldn’t that be the ultimate plot twist?!

An easy and meaningful fast!

About the Author
Rosally Saltsman, originally from Montreal, lives in Israel. Her books include Finding the Right Words, Parenting by the Book, Soul Journey and A Portion of Kindness.
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