Today, we commemorate the destruction of the Temples with the observance of Tisha B’Av. Fast days are never the favorite or memorable holidays, but this day is important for all of us, as we can continue to learn from these events, even today.
The Rabbis teach that the destruction of the Second Temple may have been carried out by the Roman empire, but that one of the main reasons for the destruction was not based on military strategy, or battle plans. The Temple was destroyed at least partially, because of “Sinat Chinam” or “Baseless Hatred.” The Jews living at the time of the second Temple forgot the basic principles that we strive to teach our own children from a very young age. They stopped treating each other respectfully, and with the dignity with which every person deserves to be treated.
There is a famous story told in the Talmud of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Due to a case of poor communication, a man ended up inviting his enemy Bar Kamtza to his party, instead of his intended guest, Kamtza. Despite many pleas to the party host by Bar Kamtza to allow him to remain, the host very publicly, embarrassed Bar Kamtza and forced him to leave the party. Some say, that it was this event that ultimately led to the second Temple’s destruction. While no one can really say for sure if this story is in fact true, it has become a well-known “mashal” or parable for the idea of “Sinat Chinam.” The first time I shared this story with my then 6-year-old son, he immediately asked, “how could one person treat another person like this?” If a 6-year-old child is asking this question, one can only wonder why more adults are not asking the same.
As teachers and as parents, we all have a responsibility to teach about treating others respectfully. There is an old rhyme which we used to say in school “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” While the idea is nice, in reality this just isn’t true. Words CAN in fact hurt. Sometimes words can actually do more damage than a physical fight. In today’s world of Facebook, WhatsApp, and social media, words can do a lot more damage than us parents and educators think.
Recently, I was asked to consult on a case which happened at a school here in Israel. One third grader posted a rather off-color comment on a WhatsApp group about another kid in his class. The school had never dealt with this type of issue before, and through a connection, I was asked to come in and speak to the students and to the parents about why these comments were so problematic. Well, the good news was that I had a really productive conversation with the students. We discussed how comments posted online could never really be taken down, and how they could be really hurtful both now, and in the long term. The bad news though, was that the parents of the student who posted the comment, just didn’t get why we were making such a big deal. They told me “kids do these types of things.” So, I asked what they were doing to teach their son that these types of comments were inappropriate and hurtful. The parents shrugged their shoulders and said that that would mention it to their son again, but that the other boy must have started it. I left this meeting in utter shock and disbelief. How could parents not teach their children how to treat their peers? This is a basic concept of everything that we as Jews believe!
The new school year starts in just a few weeks, and we must not wait for Tisha B’Av to remind our students about “Sinat Chinam.” Sometimes it is easier to ignore a statement rather than to make it a big deal, but students must learn from an early age that treating people with respect is not negotiable. We all witnessed the recent events at the Olympic Games between the Israeli and Egyptian Judo athletes. This was obviously a sad statement that shows us that even adults today, still do not understand the concept of “Sinat Chinam.” One look at the daily news, and we can see the US elections, politics, the Olympics, entertainment news, sports news, etc. It is easy for us to use phrases like “I hate that candidate” or “he is so stupid.” While we are all entitled to our opinions of a person’s actions, we must set the example for our children.
In her song, called “Good Morning Herr Muller,” songwriter Pam Ortiz recounts the famous story of the Jew in Poland who stopped to say “Good Morning” to the Polish man. This small act of courtesy, ended up saving the Jew’s life. After ending up in the final selection line at Auschwitz, it was that same Polish man who was deciding which Jews lived and which Jews died. The Polish man remembered this small act of kindness and decency, and saved the Jewish man’s life. It would have been easy for the Jewish person to ignore the Polish man, especially with what was happening at the time. The Jewish man, who later resettled to Israel, mentioned years later, that the world had seen enough hate. He believed that if everyone did his little part to stop hating and to treat our fellow person with respect, that maybe one day the Temple would be rebuilt.
Here we are on Tisha B’Av, mourning the Temple’s destruction. What happens tomorrow? Well, maybe we can remember the ideas of today and we can teach our children and students that the way we treat each other really does matter. Perhaps, if we can each do our small part, we can strive towards our redemption.