My article, “Breaking Out From the Straights” was published in The Jerusalem Post on July 28, 2016.
The Three Weeks, or Bein ha-Metzarim (“Between the Straits”), that begins on the 17th of Tammuz (commemorated last Sunday) and ends on the 9th of Av (commemorated this year on Sunday, August 14) mark a very dark time in our past. In the days of Candy Crush and Pokémon Go, no one really wants to know about it, but we really should because the ailment that devastated our nation 2,000 years ago has never been cured. Today, just as it did then, it is causing all our problems.
The Sad Story about Kamtza and Bar Kamtza
The Talmud (Masechet Gitin) tells us that once, when the Temple still stood, a wealthy Jew in Jerusalem had a friend named Kamtza, and an enemy named Bar Kamtza. One day the wealthy Jew decided to make a feast. He sent his servant to invite his friend, Kamtza, to the feast, but the servant mistakenly invited his enemy, Bar Kamtza. The surprised Bar Kamtza took this as a gesture of reconciliation and accepted the invitation. He put on his best clothes and went to the home of the man who he thought was no longer his enemy.
When the host noticed that Bar Kamtza was there, he was infuriated and demanded that he leave at once. The mortified Bar Kamtza pleaded with the host to let him stay. He even offered to pay for his own food and drink, and for everyone else’s, too. The host not only refused him mercilessly, but even had Bar Kamtza dragged out of his house and thrown into the street.
Humiliated and disgraced, Bar Kamtza pledged vengeance not only against his host, but also against the guests, who supported the host. “I’ll slander them before the Emperor,” he decided.
Bar Kamtza went to Emperor Nero and told him that the Jews were planning to rebel against him. After some cunning persuasion, the emperor was convinced that Bar Kamtza was telling the truth, and sent his army to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple.
Over the generations, this famous story has symbolized the unfounded hatred that led to our social and moral decline and to our subsequent exile. In today’s social climate, it could not be more pertinent. As we can see, read and hear each day, conflicts, manipulations, and dishonesty have never been more prevalent among us. The sarcasm and derision we use against each other point not to our wit, but to our dislike of one another.
Time to Reconnect Our Threads of Love
The Three Weeks marks the time between the shattering of the walls of Jerusalem and the ruin of the Temple. The Holy Shlah wrote that “unfounded hatred caused the ruin of the Temple.” Indeed, as Baal HaSulam noted, “It is a shame to admit that one of the most precious merits we have lost is the natural feeling that connects and sustains each and every nation. The threads of love that connect the nation, which are so natural and primitive in all the nations, have become degenerated and detached from our hearts, and they are gone.” As a result, the only thing that keeps us together as a nation is the world’s hatred toward us.
Today’s Western world still offers Jews freedom of speech and freedom of movement. We must use this freedom to reestablish brotherly love above our alienation and rebuild our peoplehood. Now, before the door of freedom closes once again, our nation must work tirelessly to rebuild itself from the ruins of unfounded hatred and realize our people’s vocation—to become a role model of a truly united nation, one that all the nations will want to emulate so that they, too, can benefit from that unique power of unity.
Building the Temple Within
As we reflect on the ruin of the Temple, we should also consider the future. When The Book of Zohar describes the building of the Third Temple, it does not speak of bricks and arches; it speaks of our connections. It describes the mending of our shattered hearts, which suffer from the sickness of unfounded hatred. The Zohar explains how the whole world will come to embrace the connectedness beaming from the united people of Israel. Building the Third Temple is therefore done within us and between us, mending our broken ties and covering our hate with love, or as King Solomon wrote, “Love covers all crimes.”
Just as we invoke a negative force when we separate from one another, we invoke a positive force when we connect with one another. This force inverts our mutual suspicion into mutual concern, and our isolation into mutual responsibility. The beauty of this power is that we maintain our individuality and fulfill our personal traits while contributing to society and collecting benefits from others’ contributions. In this way, we weave a “blanket” of connection that covers our separation.
The Gene of Unity
Today’s Judaism is fractured and fragmented into more pieces than probably anyone can count. But the “gene” of unity lies latent within each of us, and we can bring it back to life if we so choose. If, despite our bursting egos, we will strive to join forces toward our common goal as a Jewish nation—to provide humanity with an example of unity at a time when it so badly needs it—we will accomplish our vocation.
Now is the time to be proactive. The world is spiraling downward, and it is plainly visible that ego has at least a large stake in this descent. But no one knows how to stop our collective suicidal conduct. We, the Jews, the bearers of the tenet, “love your neighbor as yourself,” must rise to the challenge, put down our egos, and unite above them. This is the true and positive message we should take from The Three Weeks, and it is the one thing that will guarantee our safety and happiness in Israel and the world over.
From The Jerusalem Post 7/31/16