Parshat Devarim

The fall of the second temple

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe
Chazal tell us that although the people of that era studied Torah, performed mitzvos, and acted charitably, since they were guilty of sinas chinam [baseless or gratuitous hatred] the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed.


Gittin 55b
Rabbi Yohanan said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Happy is the man who fears always [experiences Yirah, awe/fear of God], but he who hardens his heart shall fall into mischief” (Proverbs 28:14)? Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza. … there was a certain man whose friend was named Kamtza and whose enemy was named bar Kamtza. He once made a large feast and said to his servant: Go bring me my friend Kamtza. The servant went and mistakenly brought him his enemy bar Kamtza.


The man who was hosting the feast came and found bar Kamtza sitting at the feast. the host said to bar Kamtza: … you are my enemy. What then do you want here? Arise and leave. Bar Kamtza said to him: Since I have already come, let me stay and I will give you money for whatever I eat and drink. Just do not embarass me by sending me out.


The host said to him: No, you must leave. Bar Kamtza said to him: I will give you money for half of the feast; just do not send me away. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Bar Kamtza then said to him: I will give you money for the entire feast; just let me stay. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Finally, the host took bar Kamtza by his hand, stood him up, and took him out.


After having been cast out from the feast, bar Kamtza said to himself: Since the Sages were sitting there and did not protest the actions of the host, although they saw how he humiliated me,learn from it that they were content with what he did. I will therefore go and inform against them to the king. He went and said to the [Roman] emperor: The Jews have rebelled against you. the emperor said to him: Who says that this is the case? Bar Kamtza said to him: Go and test them; send them an offering to be brought in honor of the government, and see whether they will sacrifice it.


The emperor went and sent with him a choice three-year-old calf. While bar Kamtza was coming with the calf to the Temple, he made a blemish on the calf’s upper lip. … Therefore, when bar Kamtza brought the animal to the Temple, the priests would not sacrifice it on the altar since it was blemished, but they also could not explain this satisfactorily to the gentile authorities, who did not considered it to be blemished.


The blemish notwithstanding, the Sages thought to sacrifice the animal as an offering due to the imperative to maintain peace with the government. Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolas said to them: If the priests do that, people will say that blemished animals may be sacrificed as offerings on the altar. The Sages said, If we do not sacrifice it, then we must prevent bar Kamtza from reporting this to the emperor. The Sages thought to kill him so that he would not go and speak against them. Rabbi Zekharya said to them: If you kill him, people will say that one who makes a blemish on sacrificial animals is to be killed. As a result, they did nothing., bar Kamtza’s slander was accepted by the authorities, and consequently the war between the Jews and the Romans began.


Rabbi Yohanan says: The excessive humility of Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolas destroyed our Temple, burned our Sanctuary, and exiled us from our land.


Yirah, is in part, a sense of the complexity and interconnectedness of the world. Our actions can have consequences far beyond what we are able to perceive and understand. How does this story provide an example of the significance of Yirah? How would someone with Yirah have perceived the situations described and acted?


How do you understand the statement that Rabbi Zekharya acted with excessive humility? What are we called upon to do?


Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz
The principle finds halachic expression in the law of “Rabbinic enactments and various scriptural prohibitions are set aside when they conflict with human respect and dignity” (Berachot 19b).


How do you understand what Rabbi Shmulevitz is saying? How should have Rabbi Zekharya assessed the situation? What should have Rabbi Zekharya been fearing?


Gittin 57a
It is taught: Rabbi Elazar says: Come and see how great is the power of shame, for the Holy One, Blessed be He, assisted bar Kamtza, who had been humiliated, and due to this humiliation and shame He destroyed His Temple and burned His Sanctuary.


Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz
Bar Kamtza was a man of exceptionally low character, a man who stooped so low as to slander his own people before the Roman emperor and as a result brought death and destruction upon them. Yet his dignity, too, was sacred. … indeed, Hashem espoused the cause of Bar Kamtza.


Why does damaging the honor of bar Kamtza merit destroying the Temple? What does the Temple represent?


Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe
The commandment to build an actual Beis HaMikdash was to facilitate an understanding of how our personal [internal] Beis HaMikdash should look. Actions carried out with pure and holy intentions and with the goal of creating an abode for Hashem in this physical world mirror the holy vessels of the Beis HaMikdash, which were prepared with the objective of creating a place in which the Shechinah would reside on Earth. When Bnei Yisrael’s behavior deteriorated to the point that they defiled their internal Beis HaMikdash, the external Beis HaMikdash automatically lost its viability and was destroyed.


When we mourn on Tisha B’av and the days leading up to it, we are not merely mourning for the Beis HaMikdash that once stood in Yerushalayim. We are mourning the destruction of our internal greatness.