Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Of Sabras and Spats and Other Three-Week Stuff

The sabra is a prickly pear native to Israel. Here is a photo of a sabra.

You cannot just swoop down and pick a sabra fruit because the darn thing is covered in needles that will get under your skin. But inside, the fruit (when ripe) is juicy mush with a taste so sweet it's cloying.

Israelis are called "Sabras" because they are tough and untouchable on the outside and tender on the inside. They can be rude and abrupt, snide and downright nasty. Like cactus needles, they'll get under your skin and not in a good way. Not like this, for instance.

But a Sabra will volunteer his seat on the bus to an older person or a pregnant lady or to anyone with an infirmity. He'll do that without being asked and without a second thought. Israelis will do anything for you when you're in trouble or in pain.

Because Israelis are tender at the core.

I'm not a sabra, because I wasn't born in Israel. And yet, in a lot of ways I fit the description. People tend to see me as a tough cookie and in some respects I am. I've been through a lot and I'm still standing. It takes a lot to make me cry. I don't gussy up my writing. I'm not girly-girl.

On the other hand, I don't know how to shrug it off when people hurt and insult me. When a friend is suddenly not a friend and will no longer talk to me (and this has now happened to me twice within the past five months), I can't say, "It's your loss," and walk away.

It's a problem. It's more than a problem. It's so big it supplants everything else and makes it impossible for me to go about my everyday business. It's this huge chunk of big blue grief sitting on my chest from the inside, hurting me with everything its got.

That's actually okay right now, because it's the Three Weeks. It's a Jewish mourning period in which we mourn the Destruction of the Temples. We're supposed to be introspective and sad. We're supposed to be gentler in our dealings with others and with our children. Because our feelings are raw.

The Three Weeks

And it's real. Every year the Jewish month of Av comes in and things get freaky and nasty. People are short-tempered and bad things happen. Every year. Like clockwork.

So it's kind of okay that I'm hurting inside. Because it suits this time of year. On the other hand, it's not okay at all. That I'm hurting inside.

And here is why:

The kind of hurt I am suffering is a wound dealt me by two Jewish women--Sistahs in my Nation. And that is why it is NOT okay.

Not okay at all.

Every religious Jew worth his salt knows the reason the Temples were destroyed. It's called: Baseless Hatred. 

Kamtza And Bar Kamtza

The story that everyone knows that best illustrates baseless hatred is the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, a tale from the Talmud (Gittin 56). There was a man who decided to throw the party to end all parties in his hometown of Jerusalem. He wrote up a guest list and sent his servant to deliver invitations.

One of the guests on the list was a dude named "Kamtza." Unfortunately, the servant made a big oopsie and instead of inviting Kamtza, he invited his boss' worst enemy: BAR Kamtza (close but no cigar).

All Smiles

Bar Kamtza got that invite and he was like the happiest guy on earth to think that the guy giving the party had finally forgiven him. But when Bar Kamtza (all smiles and joy) got to the party, the host saw him and went livid. He instructed his servant to throw Bar Kamtza out of his home.

Bar Kamtza figured it out: There'd been a mistake.

He was mortified. He went up to the host and quietly pleaded with him to allow him to stay. "Please let me stay. I'll be so embarrassed if everyone sees you throwing me out," he said.

"Tell you what. I'll pay for my meal. However much it cost. Just PLEASE let me stay."


But no. The host of the party would not hear of it. He was FUMING. Practically FOAMING at the mouth.

Bar Kamtza tried again. "Okay, okay. Let's just find a way to make this work. I'll pay half the cost of the entire party. Just. . .please. Let me stay!"

But the host just said, "No! LEAVE. Like YESTERDAY."

By now, Bar Kamtza was getting kind of desperate. He said, "Look. I'll pay all your costs. I'll cover the whole party. Just don't do this, Man. Don't do this to me."

He Wouldn't Budge

But the host just wouldn't let go his hatred and anger. He just wouldn't budge from his fury. And he had Bar Kamtza thrown out of his home.

Nice story, huh? Anyone could relate.

But no. We're not done. The STORY isn't done.

Here's what happened next. Bar Kamtza was hurt and upset and embarrassed. Everyone had been at that party. The greatest rabbis of the time were in attendance. And not one of them took his part. Not one of them spoke up on his behalf. They just didn't want to touch that.

So. Messy.

They looked away, pretended not to hear, whatever. You know?

Lava And Heat

Inside, Bar Kamtza was all lava and heat. He was furious. He thought: 'In their silence, those rabbis were complicit in what was done to me! They approved!'

He thought they approved of the way he had been embarrassed in public in such a nasty public way.

Bar Kamtza was consumed with hurt and anger. It filled him up. It was everything, those feelings: his anger at the rabbis, who failed to support him when clearly he was IN THE RIGHT.

So you know what he did? Bar Kamtza? He went to the Romans and told them all kinds of stuff about the Jews. He told them the Jews were plotting against them, trash-talking them, and doing all kinds of things to undermine Roman authority.

That was all the excuse the Romans needed to attack and burn down the Holy Temple.

And we've been paying for the damage ever since. Everything that happens to us, antisemitism, the Holocaust, BDS, the UN condemnations, everything flows from there.

You could look at what happened, at the actual chain of events relating to Roman rule and the kind of stuff that Josephus documented. The everyday things that lead to war.

But that wasn't what destroyed the Temple. It was hatred by Jews against Jews for no reason whatsoever. Bar Kamtza wanted to work things out. But his host stonewalled him and there was no reason for that. Bar Kamtza was making a show of good faith. He wanted to make things right. The two had once been friends!

Simply No Reason

Bar Kamtza was a Jew, speaking to a Jew from the heart. And the unnamed host of that party did a terrible thing in not responding in kind, in locking him out, in subjecting Bar Kamtza to public ridicule out of simple stubbornness. There really was NO REASON for this.

When someone tries to resolve things in good faith, you see, he should be met with openness and kindness and a willingness to work toward repairing what is broken.

Every minute that passes in which this does not happen is a rent in the fabric not just of the two Jews in question but of the ENTIRE JEWISH NATION AS A WHOLE.

When you hurt me, you are hurting US, the Jewish people. Kol Yisrael areivim zeh b'zeh (Shavuot 39a). All Jews are responsible this for that (for each other).

Read My Lips

No Jew has the right to lock out a fellow Jew who wants to try to make things right. No Jew has a right to inflict that sort of pain, embarrassment, and damage on another Jew.

The right thing to do is to sit down and work things out. Or at least to TRY to do so. Until it is clear things cannot be worked out. At that point, you can agree to disagree. And be mature and move on.

But back to Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. We know what destroyed the Temple. We also know how to fix it--how to repair the damage. It's by giving your unconditional love to your fellow Jew. Love without reason. Love without end.

Love for love's sake.

An Obligation

And it's not just that we know HOW to fix the damage, it's that we are OBLIGATED to fix the damage: to work things out. To love each other and be kind and nice to each other, whatever it takes (Chafetz Chaim: Maamar Ahavas Yisroel, Chapter 5).

So how do we know it's just not happening, this sort of unconditional love between Jews? It's like this: you go to Jerusalem and you get to the Kotel, the Western Wall. You look up and you see: NO TEMPLE.
Look up: No Temple.

Nope. It's not there. And it's not there because baseless hatred exists. Because Jews are not speaking to each other, not working things out, not making things right.

It's just a rent in the fabric of our nation growing wider and wider apart every time a millisecond ticks by. And this is serious stuff. As Jews we are all obligated to the act of making things whole again. No one is off the hook. Each one of us must examine ourselves and our relationships and see what needs fixing.

We each of us need to do that and fix it NOW. It's an obligation incumbent on all of us, all the time.

You're The Reason

If you don't do it: if you do what that host did, and refuse to work things out, even though Bar Kamtza was willing to meet him so much more than halfway, then you are the reason the Temple is not rebuilt. You are preventing the redemption of our people.

By the same token, if you love your fellow Jew and relieve him of his internal agonies, his emotional grieving, and you show him love just because. JUST BECAUSE.

It will be as if you are building the Temple.

Brick by solid brick.

1 comment:

  1. Any conclusions - even when they are the intelligent and important - when they are based on the literal meaning (פשט) of the legend - they causes disaster!

    We MUST DECRYPT the literal meaning of the legends of the Talmud!

    Kamtza and Bar Kamtza - who are they really???

    The answer is here (in Hebrew):
    or (with some additions):

    The true meaning of the Sinat Chinam concept is explained in the document called
    חמישה קטעים על המילה בריון
    on this site: https://goo.gl/2SxSUy