Tonight begins the Yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) of my mother, and as I always do, I impart a lesson from her. This one actually comes from the Talmud, but was taught to me by her. Not just me, but since this is a summer lesson, to all the kids at the camp where she served as educational director for over twenty years.
My mother died on the eve of the Nine Days, a period of mourning in Judaism that leads to Tisha B’Av (ninth of Av – a Jewish month), the day that commemorates the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Both times – there were two temples and they both happened to be destroyed on the same day in different years. My mother used to teach the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, which is from the Talmud, and seeks to explain why the Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was ravaged, and the Jewish people exiled.
It goes like this. There was a man who decided to have a feast and invite all his friends, including a man named Kamtza. When his servant went to deliver the invitations, he made a mistake (you just couldn’t find good help in those days) and delivered the invite to someone named Bar Kamtza instead. Bar Kamtza, as it happened, and the feast-giver, were sworn enemies. Awkward! But Bar Kamtza figured, “wow, he really wants to make this up – go him!” So he showed up at the feast and the host said, “what the hell are you doing here?” That’s when Bar Kamtza must have realized they were still enemies. The host told him to get out (this is when I imagine the music stopping and the dancing girls stopping their dance and everyone shutting up and staring… the Talmud is silent on this point, however).
But no one wants to get tossed out of a happening party in front of a lot of people. So Bar Kamtza said, “I’m here already, just let me stay and I’ll even pay for whatever I eat and drink.” The host said no way. Bar Kamtza offered to pay for half the cost of the whole party! That’s how mortified he was. No dice. OK, what about the entire shindig? Just don’t embarrass me like this! But the host threw him out.
Also at this party were a lot of Rabbis, who were the leaders then, and none of them said anything while this was going on. Thus Bar Kamtza reckoned that they condoned his humiliation, since none of them had protested or spoken out. He decided to get even with the lot of them. He went to the Romans who were in charge of things at the time, and told them the Jews were rebelling. The Romans attacked, and, well, you know the rest. Death, destruction, the end of the holy Temple (there’s just the Wailing Wall now), and the loss of a way of life forever.
Obviously, there are a lot of things you can take away from this story. The one my mother always taught was that it is gravely wrong to embarrass people in public. I actually just did that by posting photos of my friends from 20 years ago on Facebook. Oops. Must try harder. But really, your good name is all you have, so if you have a problem with someone, take it to a private venue. Bad-mouthing someone on your blog, for instance, is never cool. Damage can usually be undone when the whole world doesn’t know about it.
The other lesson is obviously to not to have friends with similar names. Or just send out your invites yourself. Or work things out with your frenemies. Or keep the Romans out of Israel. That last one was hard.
I like that my mother’s Yahrzeit is tacked on to the Nine Days. It doesn’t replace any of them or get merged, it just adds one more day. The Ten Days, as it were. And I like to think that even the biggest, scariest world events, like war and destruction, could be prevented if only we were good to each other.
בזכות מרים נחמה בת הרב יצחק