Kamtza and Bar Kamtza

Chazal inform us that the primary cause for the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash was Sinas Chinam. In this context, the Gemara in Gitin famously ascribes partial blame to the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. I think most of us are familiar with the incident where an unnamed individual threw a celebration and mistakenly invited his rival Bar Kamtza in place of his friend Kamtza. When the error was discovered, he insisted on ejecting Bar Kamtza despite repeated entreaties. In revenge, Bar Kamtza incited the Roman Emperor on a path that ultimately led to the siege of Yerushalaim and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

The question arises, why does Kamtza share the responsibility equally with Bar Kamtza; he had absolutely no stated role in the events? And why is the host whose rigid hate and stubbornness to humiliate Bar Kamtza not named?

The Aruch HaShulchan answers that the intention of the Gemara is not to lay blame based on the climactic incident itself; that was merely a natural outgrowth of the background strife that was years in developing. Rather the issue was the underlying pettiness and squabbling that led to this dramatic story. In that political maneuvering, Kamtza was likely an equal participant. It is human nature to consider the enemy of my enemy to be an ally, and Kamtza’s friendship with the host was based solely on that consideration. The host may have had a perfectly legitimate reason for failing to invite Bar Kamtza, but his friendship with Kamtza that enabled the tragic mistake was exclusively due to Kamtza’s Sinas Chinam.

When we recall the tragic story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza in these days leading up to Tisha b’Av, we should keep in mind not to be complacent. While we may be confident that we would never publicly humiliate someone by ejecting them from our Simcha, but can we be as certain that none of our interpersonal relationships  are tainted by rivalry and spite. Can we honestly claim to be free of office politics, family feuds and neighborhood rivalries?

Chazal tell us that one do did not merit the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash in his days is as if it was destroyed in his days. The implication being that if we had eradicated the Sinas Chinam that led to the Churban, we would immediately merit its rebuilding, and we are held accountable for not doing our part.

May we all deserve to see the Third Beis HaMikdash soon.

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