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Sinat Chinam: The Great Tisha B'Av Crime

What Is Baseless Hatred, Anyway?


Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

There is a famous quote in the Talmud about Tisha B’Av: “The temple was only destroyed because of sinat chinam” – translated as ‘baseless hatred.’ If we understand the Talmud literally, it would appear that on Tisha B’Av we should focus on removing baseless hatred from our hearts. But there’s a problem with this: how often are we really tempted to hate somebody baselessly?

When we think of people we hate, there is usually a reason. So what does sinat chinam actually mean? And what are we supposed to do on Tisha B’Av to remove it from our hearts?

Join Rabbi Fohrman as he explores the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, looking carefully at the connection between the different episodes of the story as a window into our own tendencies of anger.

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Transcript

So, I confess, I have always had a real problem with Tisha B'Av. I know that sounds terrible to say but here's my issue, we all know the famous saying quoted from the Talmud: The temple was only destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred.

Sinat Chinam and the Temple's Destruction

So if there is a spiritual remedy be undertaken on Tisha B'Av, it is clearly banish baseless hatred from our hearts. We have to resolve never to feel baseless hatred.

We pray and ask God's assistance, we join Facebook campaigns, we engage in acts of ahavat chinam, baseless love, to just love people for no reason rather than hate people for no reason.

But here's the problem: Honestly, how often are you tempted to hate somebody baselessly?

Does Anyone Truly Feel Baseless Hatred?

When is the last time you were walking down the street, you saw somebody, 'Oh, there's Phil, I hate him.' Just no reason, baseless. We don't do that.

I mean, are you like that? Is there anyone you know like that? Are we creating some kind of scarecrow with baseless hatred that just doesn't exist and then, we congratulate ourselves that we don't have this terrible sin? Wow! Great, you are not a psychopath – you should be proud of that? I mean what if every year we congratulate ourselves about how we have purged sinat chinam from our heart, we no longer hate people baselessly, as if you did in the first place?

Sinat chinam. I mean, those are very strong words. In real life, you know, many of us are no strangers to hatred, to anger, sometimes even to rage but usually, when we get really mad at somebody, we get mad at them for a reason. Somebody bullies me and I hate them; is that baseless hatred? It's not baseless hatred, there is a reason I hate him. Who feels baseless hatred?

Have We Really Banished Sinat Chinam?

I think if we really want to experience Tisha B'Av like adults, we sort of owe it to ourselves to try to come to grips with the question of what baseless hatred is. What do we mean when we talk about sinat chinam, hatred for no reason?

Because there is an insidious possibility that every year we congratulate ourselves for getting rid of sinat chinam but we don't even know what it is. And maybe what it really is continues to lurk in our hearts, to poison our minds and our relationships.

It turns out that there's a fundamental piece of Talmud that exemplifies the idea of sinat chinam. Traditionally, we learn it on Tisha B'Av.

The Nature of Sinat Chinam

In the Gemara, masechet Gittin deals with the famous apocryphal story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. What I want to do with you in this video is to analyze that story, to read it through with you, and to try to figure out through looking at that story what sinat chinam really is. Because the strange thing is, that as you read the story it doesn't seem to be about baseless hatred at all.

 

I think that if we read that story with clear eyes, we will arrive at a surprising understanding of the nature of sinat chinam, of baseless hatred. It is not something that monsters feel, that psychopaths feel; hatred for no reason. Indeed, the kind of baseless hatred that the Gemara talks about, it's uncomfortably close to home.

Kamtza and Bar Kamtza: The Cause of the Temple's Destruction?

"Akamtza u'Bar Kamtza charava Yerushalayim." It was because of the episode of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza that Jerusalem was destroyed. Is the Gemara telling you something historical that actually happened? More than likely, it's apocryphal. But the kind of event in some essential way, which takes place here, is responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem in the eyes of the sages.

What kind of event is it? Haru gavra darachmi Kamtza ubaal davaveih Bar Kamtza, there was a fellow, who had a friend by the name of Kamtza and an enemy by the name of Bar Kamtza. One day, avad sudasa, this fellow makes a great feast and invites everyone. The great sages of the time were invited, all of his buddies were invited. Amar leih leshameih, and he tells his servants, zil isi li Kamtza, among all the people on my guest list, go and invite Kamtza, my friend. Azal isi leih Bar Kamtza, the servant mistakenly addresses the invitation and accidentally brought in Bar Kamtza instead. Well, Bar Kamtza was his enemy.

So the feast begins, and as everyone is dining under the fine chandeliers, the Baal Simcha, the feast maker, is making his way through the guests, saying hello to everyone; and then, out of the corner of his eye, asa ashkacheih dahavah yativ, he sees Bar Kamtza sitting down at his feast. Amar leih, he approaches and says, michdi, let's see, hahu gavra baal davo dahehu gavra hu, you are my enemy, mai bais hacho, what are you doing here? Kum pok, get up and leave.

Amar leih, so Bar Kamtza replies, look, hol vasai, since I am here already, shavken, leave me, vehivno lach damei mah dachilna veshesina, I will even pay your for the cost of the food and my drink here. Amar leih, he responds, lo, no. So Bar Kamtza says, yahivno lach damei palno dasudatayech, I will pay for half of your whole feast. Amar leih lo, he says, No. Amar leih yahivno lach damei kulo sudatayech, I will pay for your entire feast, the whole shebang, it's on me, just let me stay. Amar leih lo, he says, No.'Nakti biyadi, he picks him up physically, ve'ukmi ve'afkei, and throws him out of his feast.

 

Okay, so that is episode number one. The spotlight now turns to Bar Kamtza. Amar, he says to himself, hoil vehavu yasvi rabanin velo michu beih, the Rabbis were there, they saw all these and they didn't protest. Shema minah ko nicho lehu, evidently, they are okay with all these. Eizil eichul behu kurtzo bei malcha, I am going to get my revenge. What if I can find a way to get Romans involved here? Of course, in this time at the last days of the Second Temple, Rome has political and military control of Israel. And while the Jews do have self-government, they are ultimately answerable to Rome.

 

So, azal amar leih leKeisar mardu bach Yehudai, so Bar Kamtza goes and he tells Keisar, the Caesar – now the commentators say that, it wasn't actual Caesar but it was the Roman procurator in charge of Jerusalem at the time – the Jews are rebelling against you. So, amar leih mi yemar, the procurator, the general sends back word, Who says? How do I know it is really true? Amar leih, Bar Kamtza says, shader lehu korbana, why don't you send an offering to their temple, chazis i makrevin leih, let's see if they offer it for you or they refuse. Azal shader biyadei egla telasa, so the procurator says, good idea, and sends back with Bar Kamtza three calves to be offered on behalf of Rome in the Jewish temple.

 

Behadi dekaasi shada bei muma beniv sefasaim, as Bar Kamtza is bringing the animals to the temple, he cuts the upper lip of each of the animals. Now, the reason he does that is because there is a law that the animal that is a baal mum, an animal that has some sort of blemish, may not be offered in the temple. So Bar Kamtza is actually creating a blemish in each of these animals, but he is doing so very cleverly. Duchta delididan hava muma velididu laav muma hu, the Romans also understood this idea of not offering animals with a blemish, they gave sacrifices to pagan Gods and they wouldn't sacrifice a blemished animal either. Bar Kamtza cleverly cut the upper lip of each of the animals. It was a kind of wound that the Romans would not consider a blemish but Torahlah would recognize it as a blemish.

 

So the animals arrive at the temple and the rabbinic authorities there see that these are blemished animals, but they also see that they have come from Rome; and now they have a dilemma. Savur rabanan lekruveih mishum shalom malchus, the Rabbis' initial response was to offer the offerings anyway, despite the blemishes. Because peace with the authorities take precedent over the technical requirements of sacrificial law.

They are making a halachic judgment: Peace outweighs these concerns about whether the animal is a baal mum or not. And that's what they are going to do except for an objection leveled by one fellow, a Rabbi by the name of Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkulus, who said, yomru baalei mumin krevin legavi mizbeach, we can't do it. If we offer these animals, people will get the wrong idea. They'll say blemished animals are allowed to be offered on the alter. It would be catastrophic, we cannot allow it to happen.

 

So the Rabbis were stuck, they weren't going to offer the offering but they understood the terrible implications of rejecting Rome's offering. So they cast about for another solution. Savur lemiktaleih, they thought maybe let's kill Bar Kamtza, delo leizil veleima, so he shouldn't go back to Rome and tell them see, they have rejected your offering. Amar lehu revi Zecharia, but Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkulus, the same Rabbi said, yomru matil mum bekodshim yeharag, we can't do that either, if people get the wrong idea, people will say that someone who intentionally places a blemish, in a consecrated animal, is liable to the death penalty. We cannot offer the offerings and we cannot touch Bar Kamtza. And so they rejected the offering and Bar Kamtza went back with the news of it to Rome.

 

Years later the Gemara records Rabbi Yochanan, the great sage in Israel, who lived centuries after this, said Anvesanuso shel Revi Zecharia ben Avkulus hichrivah es beitnu vesarfah es heichlenu, the unwise humility of Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkulus is responsible for destroying our holy temple. As explained by some of the commentators, Rabbi Zecharia's argument was, really, 'Who are we to make such weighty decisions, to contravene the law of blemishes, people would get the wrong idea, who are we to take the matters into our own hands?' We didn't have broad enough shoulders to make these kinds of decisions and it was wrong headed humility that ended up destroying the temple.

 

But now, let's get back to the main story. What happened next after the offerings of Rome were rejected? Shader alaihu leNiron Keisar, Nero, the Cesar got word of this braised refusal by Judaea to offer Rome's offerings. He came to wage a campaign against Jerusalem. Ki kaasi, and as he was coming, he must've had the sense as he approached the holy city that he was embarking on a momentous campaign against the God of Israel.

So, he stopped for a moment, shada gira lemizrach, he took an arrow out of his quiver, put it in his bow and shot it in an eastward direction. Asa nafal biYerushalayim, the arrow went and fell on an exact direct line, pointing towards Jerusalem. Lemaarav, he shot an arrow to the west, asa nafal biYerushalayim, it fell on an exact line to Jerusalem. Le'arba ruchos hashamayim, he shot an arrow in all four directions, and it landed on exactly the same place, pointing him towards Jerusalem.

At that moment, he caught site of a Jewish child wandering on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Amar leih liyanuka, so, he said to this little kid, pesok li pesukeyach, what have you been learning in school? Amar leih, the child said, we just happened to be studying this verse in Ezekiel, chapter 25, venatati et-nikmati b'Edom beyad ami Yisrael, 'God says that I will ultimately take out my vengeance on Edom, on Rome, through my people Israel'.

At that point Nero put two and two together and said to himself, kudsha berich hu bai lechruvei beiteih, I understand what's going on here, the master of the universe, the mighty God is looking to destroy his own house. U'bai lechapurei yadeih behahu gavra, he is looking to wash his hands with that guy, with me. I ain't gonna be the scapegoat here, I'm not interested. Arak vaazal viyigayer, he left the campaign, went back and resigned his commission and converted to join the people of Israel.

 

Let's just understand what happened here. Nero saw two things. The first thing that he saw was that his arrows, no matter where he shot them, ended up in Jerusalem. The second thing he saw was the child that started talking verses to him. The arrows convinced him that God was interested in destroying his own house, destroying Jerusalem; that God's anger was going to be taken out on Jerusalem.

The second thing that he saw convinced him that despite the fact that God was the one who wanted to destroy Israel, Rome would be the one to pay for it. The verse the child tells him about is that the vengeance of God would be kindled against Rome. He looks at the situation and says, this isn't fair, I am not going to take the fall for you, God. You want to destroy your own house, destroy your own house, don't blame it on me. This man became the ancestor of Rav Meir. But alas the campaign of Rome was picked up by Vespasian and ultimately the temple was destroyed.

These are the first four episodes in the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza:

  • The interaction between the feast maker and Bar Kamtza – episode number one.
  • Bar Kamtza's decision to take vengeance against the Rabbis – episode number two.
  • Rome's attempt to send an offering to the temple – episode number three.
  • And Nero's aborted campaign against Jerusalem – episode number four.

At face value, these four episodes are just dots on a timeline, they have nothing more to do with each other, other than chronology. First this happened, then the next thing happened and then the other one and then the other one. But I would like to suggest that they are more than just dots in a timeline. There are thematic elements here that repeat themselves.

 

There is a kind of rage, a kind of anger that is been expressed in each of these episodes and there is something common about the nature of that anger. Let me strip everything else away, what are the commonalities of the kind of rage that is being felt in these stories? If we can isolate that I think we will have the secret of sinat chinam in our hands. We will understand what it means in the story and we will also understand what it means in our lives.

Understanding Sinat Chinam: Of Monsters or Men?

Okay, so in our quest, to try to find a common denominator in these four instances of sort of untrammeled rage, which I think we have seen in the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza stories, I need to ask you a question. Do you think that the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza stories are about monsters or about regular people?

When you look at what happens, the kind of expressions of really unabated rage that you have seen in these stories, they seem monstrous. What the maker of that feast does to Bar Kamtza doesn't seem normal. I mean here is Bar Kamtza pleading, to please just be allowed to stay, I will even pay for my meal, I will pay for the half of the feast, for the whole feast; just, it's so embarrassing, it's a mistake, just don't throw me out.

Your heart reaches out to this man and the maker of the feast, just impervious to his cries, throws him out on the asphalt. Makes it just a monstrous thing to do and then, the next thing that happens; Bar Kamtza, he acts monstrously too. The Rabbis were silent, okay, they shouldn't have been silent. But now you are going to come up with this libel as a slander, to Rome, that the Jews are rebelling against you? You're going to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of your countrymen? Are you crazy? It is a monstrous thing to do.

Are these stories about monsters or are these stories about men? I want to argue to you that they're stories are about men, not psychopaths. You know, it is easy to say, 'Ah, there are crazy people in the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza story.' And if they are crazy, then the story doesn't really mean much to you, does it? But what if the story isn't about crazy people? What if that kind of evil is actually in the reach of each and every one of us?

Identifying Rage in the Bar Kamtza Story

The kind of untrammeled rage that you have seen in these stories, I want to suggest, is something that can sneak up on even the best of us. The Kamtza and Bar Kamtza stories I think are teaching us about a process through which we all can become deceived by our feelings. Consumed with anger and worse than that, convinced that we are right, convinced that it is a sin to let go of that anger, because look how righteous this rage is, how justified it is.

Where does that sense come from? What convinces us that our anger is truly so righteous? I think our immediate instinct that we are right to be so angry is not just a product of self-delusion or subjectivity. It actually comes from somewhere. It is almost reasonable, it is a product of two fail-safe mechanisms.

 

We have certain instinctive fail-safe mechanisms that are there to actually filter our feelings of anger. They work pretty well most of the time in keeping us honest, in making sure that if we do feel anger, that anger is more or less justified, or if it's not justified, at least understandable. But these instinctive fail safe mechanisms that we have, they are not fool proof and that is where sometimes we can become deceived.

 

Let me explain what I am talking about. Here is our first level of defense against feelings, it is really just strong feelings of unjustified anger. I am going to call it our Reaction Thermostat. For every provocation, there is a little thermostat inside your head that judges how much of a provocation you have really suffered and, therefore, what kind of response you really should give.

Somebody cuts in front of you in line at the grocery store, the little thermostat inside of your head says, well that's a level three provocation. It deserves a level three response. 'Hey buddy, you cut in front of me, get to the back of the line.' It is not such a nice way of saying it, if you are a real pious person, you would tap him on the shoulder, you would say, 'Excuse me sir, I don't really know if you were intending this but the line starts back there, I just don't want anyone to think that you are cutting them.' But if you give the angry response, 'Hey buddy, the line starts over there,' it's a normal response. A justified response? We can argue about whether it's justified, but normal, yeah. It's within the range of normal.

Usually for normal people that thermostat works correctly, the level three provocation, it doesn't deserve a level nine response. You know, you don't go out, find his car, slash his tires. That's our thermostat, it usually works pretty well. It gauges the provocations that we suffer and we respond in kind. Most normal people have a thermostat like that and, therefore, most normal people can sort of kind of trust themselves. That if they feel really angry, they were really provoked.

 

That's one thing that gives us a sense that our rage is righteous. I wouldn't feel this angry if I was not provoked pretty badly. But here is another thing that gives us that confidence, the second fail-safe mechanism that we have. A kind of backup instinct that is a sort of safeguard, that if, for some reason our thermostat didn't work so carefully, the rage that we are feeling is unjustified, there is a way that we can sort of climb down off the emotional mountain. I am going to call it an Instinctive Fact Checker.

We are willing to let go of our rage if we check our facts and we see that we are wrong. Should I really be angry at this person? And if we decide that the answer is no, my anger is totally unjustified against him, we can let go of it. Anger is not so all consuming that once I feel it, I am completely out of control. If I am convinced that I am wrong, that this person doesn't deserve to be the object of my anger, I can let go.

 

You are driving down the highway at night, it is a dark and rainy night, minding your own business and then, some car comes from out of the blue and smashes into you and just before it does, you notice out of the corner of your eye, the gleam of a cell phone in the front seat. The guy was texting while he was driving in the rain. You are really angry. You get out of the car but as you get closer, you realize that it was the passenger holding the cell phone. Then you look in front of the car and you see this huge limb of a tree that came down in front of them. It hit the car and forced him into your lane.

Most normal people, you let go of your rage, you reach out your hand, you help the person out of the car. If we see there was a mistake, we see that there's no reason to be angry at this person. We can let go, and because we have these two fail-safe mechanisms, because on the one hand we can trust our thermostat, we don't just overreact for no reason; and then the odd chance that we do, we can let go of our rage if we see that there's no reason to be angry at this person. Because of that, when I do end up feeling really, really angry, I say to myself that I am probably right and then something dangerous happens. My rage is no longer just rage, it's righteous rage, and righteous rage does not want to be denied.

 

To get a feel for this, just go back to that case with the car. Imagine that as you approach the car, it wasn't the passenger but it was the driver with the cell phone and it wasn't a rainy night and there was no limb of a tree, and he just didn't care and he hit you. Now you're gonna let him get off with it? Your wife is in a wheelchair, your kid has six months of physical therapy in front of you and you are lucky to walk away with your life. And you approach the car window and the guys says what's the matter buddy? I am a big Mets fan, I just had to check the Mets score. In that kind of situation, that's a righteous rage. There is a part of you that says, it's a sin to let go of that kind of anger.

 

Once I convince myself that I am in the right in being angry, I see it as a sin to back down. What, are you going to get away with this? I am going to be walked all over? My family is going to get walked all over? My anger is justified. You are telling me don't get upset? Righteous anger does not want to be denied and thus, this is where even the best intentions of us can slip up.

 

What if those two fail-safe mechanisms aren't enough? Maybe your righteous rage isn't so very righteous anymore, and maybe you don't know it.

 

It's what the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza stories are all about. Every single one of those four episodes is about this kind of misplaced righteous rage.

A Closer Study of the Story of Bar Kamtza

Having talked about these two fail-safe mechanisms, what we are going to need to do is replay these stories in slow motion. Let's start with the story of the feast maker and Bar Kamtza.

The feast maker is making this huge party. It's his first daughter's wedding, he has invited the whole town, he has invited all the authorities, the political figures, the Rabbis. Everybody is there, all of his buddies, and as the guests are happily clinking their glasses, drinking champagne under the sparkling chandeliers, and as the feast maker is graciously making his way through the guests, greeting everyone, he spies, of all people, his sworn enemy Bar Kamtza. This is the guy who cheated him out of a business deal 20 years ago. He is a schnuck. They haven't spoken in the last 20 years, what's he doing here?

 

Now, freeze that frame; put yourself in the shoes of the feast maker and ask yourself, what is the story he is telling himself now? He does not yet know that the servant has made a mistake. So why in his mind is Bar Kamtza there? Who invited him? He knows we are enemies, he knows he wasn't invited, he is crashing my party, why? There could be only one reason, he is here deliberately to ruin everything for me. He knows that the second I see his face I am going to be consumed with anger, it's going to ruin my special night. Is it not bad enough that he is my enemy from 20 years ago? But he has to have the gull to show up here tonight knowing the kind of effect it's going to have on me?

 

Now, stop right there. If you are feast maker right now, what's your level of anger against Bar Kamtza? On a scale from 0 to 10, what is the feast maker feeling right now? About a 9.2. He is really angry. Now, ask yourself this, if the story that he was telling himself is true, is he justified in being that angry?

 

Let's say that's why Bar Kamtza was there. He is there just to come and provoke him. Yeah, I mean that's a really serious provocation. Now, you might say it's not so nice to get that angry, but is the feast maker's Reaction Thermostat functioning? Yeah. It was a serious provocation met by serious anger and response. Given the narrative that he is telling himself, it's a normal reaction.

 

What happens next? Fifteen minutes later, the feast maker figures out what really happened. As he looks around the room, he realizes that his best friend Kamtza is missing. How come Kamtza didn't show up? He asks around, seems like he wasn't invited. He wasn't invited! Of course I invited him. And then, it dawns on him. There must have been a mistake, his servant messed this up.

Stop! At that moment, the feast maker realizes that yeah, it was the servant that messed the things up. If the feast maker's rational mind was working, let's ask, who should he be angry at, and how angry should he be at them? Well, he should be angry at his servant. How angry should he be at his servant on a scale of 0 to 10? Well, realizing that the servant is not trying to create a provocation, it was an honest mistake. I mean it's kind of pain in the neck to have his enemy here, he should be at a five level anger at his servant.

 

Now, this is the tricky part, should he be angry at Bar Kamtza? Now your first instinct might be to say, no, what did Bar Kamtza do? He shouldn't be angry at him at all. But is that correct? Should he be at a 0 level of anger at Bar Kamtza? No, that's not correct. Think rationally. Bar Kamtza has always been the feast maker's enemy, so if the feast maker's mind is working rationally, he is as angry at Bar Kamtza as he would have been had Bar Kamtza never showed up at this feast. He is at five, regular garden variety mid-level anger. That's how he should feel about Bar Kamtza but that's not how he actually feels about him.

What actually happens is he launches into Bar Kamtza with a fury that can only be described as a nine. He ignores Bar Kamtza's desperate pleas to stay. He throws him out. He seems like a monster. Both of those-fail safe mechanisms have been evaded.

Safety mechanism number one: We called that Reaction Thermostat. The feast maker gets to his initial anger level, more or less reasonably. He thinks that he was provoked in a terrible way. Bar Kamtza maliciously came to ruin his one special day. If that were true, it wasn't an overreaction. Once the feast maker comes to realize the real story, here is the chance for safety valve number two, the Fact Checker. Am I justified in being angry at this person? And, unfortunately, in this case the answer is yes. I am justified in being angry at Bar Kamtza. He was the schnuck who did me in in a business deal 20 years ago. I should be angry at him.

 

Both safety valves are evaded, and now, righteous anger will have its way. How angry is he feeling? He is feeling a nine. Alright, so it's complicated, he should be five angry at Bar Kamtza, he should be four angry at his servant, but he sees Bar Kamtza and what does he do? He dumps all of his anger on him, he transfers what ever anger he is feeling at his servant, just adds it with the anger of Bar Kamtza. Righteous anger is a dangerous, contagious beast. Once you evade its fail safe mechanisms, it's like fire; it spreads, it can burn out of control without you even knowing it.

 

And now, let's pick up our story and look at the next episode. There's Bar Kamtza, thrown out of the party, sitting there on the asphalt, listening from outside the wedding hall as the band strikes up a new tune. You are in Bar Kamtza's shoes, what level of anger do you feel now? Why did you come to that party when you suddenly got that invitation from the feast maker? You haven't talked him for 20 years. It wasn't easy to show up there. In the interest of peace, you are willing to extend your hand and then that monster comes and starts yelling at you? And even once he understands the real story he rejects all of your pleas and throws you out of his hall? He is a monster.

Now, stop right there. What's your level of anger? It's a 9.2, but now, ask yourself this question, if Bar Kamtza's mind was working rationally, who would he be angry at? Well, his natural target of anger is the feast maker, he is the one who threw him out. But then Bar Kamtza starts to think about the Rabbis, too. Now, should he be angry at the Rabbis? They were silent, they didn't protest. They ought to have protested, it wasn't right.

But ask yourself this. How angry should he be at the Rabbis? What would be the appropriate level of anger? The same level of anger he feels at Bar Kamtza? No, not really; less. Well, they weren't the direct perpetrators of this terrible affront, they were caught unawares. They were sitting there, they didn't protest. There are all sorts of reasons why they might not have protested. It all might have happened too quickly, they might have been afraid of making an even a bigger scene.

Should they have protested? Yeah, they should have protested. How angry should you be at them? A five. How angry is he at them? He takes the 9.2 anger that he feels at Bar Kamtza and dumps it all on the Rabbis. Why? Because both fail-safe mechanisms have been evaded.

 

The initial thermostat, mechanism number one, how did he get into 9.2? Was that understandable? Yes. You have suffered a huge provocation, a huge provocation meets with a huge sense of anger. His thermostat was functioning properly. And now, the second fail-safe. When he looks at the Rabbis and asks himself, am I justified at being angry at them? What is his response? His response is, yes! He doesn't ask himself how angry should I be? He asks himself, should I be angry? And now, having concluded the answer is yes, I should be, he takes out all of his rage and unleashes it against them. Mardu bach Yehudai, the Jews are rebelling against you, Rome.

 

Fascinating. Bar Kamtza, the victim of baseless rage, has now victimized others with baseless rage of his own. Sinat chinam is a very insidious thing. It can create chain reactions and the chain reactions can spin out of control.

The Chain Reaction of Baseless Hatred

Okay, let's talk about Episode 3: Rome and the Rabbis. Bar Kamtza provokes Rome, suggesting to them that the Jews are rebelling against them. When the Roman procurator of Jerusalem challenges him and says, 'How do you know it is true?' Bar Kamtza says, 'Just send them an offering and see if they accept it.'

 

Now, we know what happens next, Bar Kamtza intentionally places a defect in the offering, and we also know that the Rabbis go through some debate as to what to do. The right decision, according to the Gemara, was to accept the offering despite its defect. Because shalom malchut, peace with the ruling power outweighs the normal prohibition of sacrificial rules. But we know that the Rabbis did not make that decision because of Zecharia ben Avkulus' wrong-headed humility as it were, and instead they rejected that offering.

 

Now, knowing all of this, let's come back and replay Rome's reaction in slow motion. The second word comes back to the Roman procurator that the animal has been rejected. What level of anger does that inspire at the national level in Rome? Their worst fears are confirmed, it is crazy; the Jews are rebelling, it's really true. We sent them this goodwill offering; here we are, we are Rome. We've built them roads, tunnels, bridges, infrastructures. We bring western democracy all sorts of wonderful things. We're even willing to have some sort of religious tolerance. We send indifference to their God, an offering from us to them, only to have them flagrantly reject the offering and send it back, no we are not offering it! This is outrageous! That's the level of anger Rome feels, it's a 9.2.

 

Now, if Rome's rational mind is working, once Rome finds out the truth, what should their level of anger be? Should they be angry at the Rabbis? The truth is the Rabbis weren't trying to rebel against Rome, they were just caught in these technical considerations. So, the explanation comes back: Sire, you don't understand, you consider blemishes something we don't really consider blemishes, that sort of blemish.

 

Now, at that point, if you are Rome, are you justified in being angry? Of course, you are justified in being angry. What level of anger, a 9.2? I mean the Jews aren't rebelling against you. It's not like that they are trying to flagrantly reject your offering as an act of politically throwing off the yoke of the oppressor; they are just being small-minded. It's ridiculous but it's not rebellion. What level of anger should he have? A five. But Rome doesn't adjust it down to a five. They come, ready to destroy the temple. Why? Because both of those safety valves got evaded.

 

Rome dumps their 9.2 level anger on the Jews, even though that level of anger is not justified. Bar Kamtza in his evil brilliance has provoked Rome to do exactly what he was provoked to do by the feast maker.

 

Let's go now to the fourth episode and the exact same dynamic is at play.

The Roman emperor Nero, according to the Bar Kamtza legend, begins to descend upon Jerusalem. Let's replay the events in slow motion. When he begins shooting arrows in all directions of the sky and each one of them lands in Jerusalem, it tells him that the Almighty is interested in destroying His house, that Rome, in a way, is an agent of the Almighty to do this. But then he stops a kid and asks him, 'What have you been learning at school, little Jewish boy?' And the child answers him with a verse, venatati et-nikmati b'Edom beyad ami Yisrael, 'I will take my vengeance against Edom, against Rome.' The Jewish people will seek vengeance upon Rome, My vengeance for what they have done.

 

What does Nero now see? He sees the ultimate expression of God's anger, God's anger against Rome, but let's stand back and look at the anger. Who is God really angry at? Right now, as Nero is descending on Jerusalem, who is God angry at? The answer is, he is angry at His people. He is angry at the Jewish people, he is ready to destroy His house. What level of anger, so to speak, is the Almighty God feeling? It's 9.2 level anger. He is ready to destroy Jerusalem.

And now, let's say Rome goes through with it. Let's say Rome destroys Jerusalem. How angry should God be with Rome? Rome destroyed God's people, but it's a little complicated, right? They were sort of God's agents, so He can't be that angry at Rome. You know, a three and a half or four level of anger at Rome.

But that's not the level of anger that God will feel according to the verse; that's not what the child tells Nero. Venatati et-nikmati b'Edom, 'and I will destroy Rome with my vengeance.' God, what are You doing? You are taking out a 9.2 level of anger at us!? Who are you angry at with your 9.2 level? So the Jews, you dump them on us. In the words of Gemara, kudsha berich hu bai lechruvei beiteih, 'The Holy one, wants to destroy His own house', u'bai lechapurei yadeih behahu gavra, 'and He wants to wash his hands with me? I am getting out of here,' Nero says. Nero retreats, converts to Judaism.

Putting a Stop to Baseless Hatred

Who is the hero of this story? Strangely, it is Nero. He is the only one who puts a stop to this. What's happening here? The Almighty God is mirroring the folly of his children. God is now coming to destroy the temple. Why? For the sin of baseless hatred, this baseless hatred that has created these chain reactions, getting out of control, consuming everything.

And now, how will God destroy his people? In a mirror image of that hatred. I will use that same sort of corrupted, baseless rage that you, human beings, have been wielding so destructively. That itself will become the divine agent that I use to destroy Jerusalem. I am going to do with Nero, and then I am going to blame him.

 

When Nero, in the end, realizes what's going on, he stops the cycle. When he comes to understand that the Master of the Universe, as it were, is taking out anger on him that rightly belongs directed somewhere else, he stops the cycle. Not only does he come to understand God's rage for what it is, but he comes to re-evaluate Rome's own rage toward the Jewish people. He sees the reaction of Rome as the overreaction that it really is and abandons the campaign.

 

Years later, Vespasian will again threaten the Jews, but for the time being Nero has put an end to the devastating cycle of displaced hatred.

The Meaning of Sinat Chinam

For what is sinat chinam? It is not hatred without cause; there's always a cause. It is hatred that cannot adjust downward. It is disproportionate hatred, hatred whose degree is baseless. Yes, you should be angry, but how angry?

 

The Kamtza and Bar kamtza stories highlight a great dilemma for all of us, they hit very, very close. Sinat chinam is not for other people, it's for us. No matter how good we are, we are faced with that challenge. We've got our fail-safe mechanisms, we're not just going to overreact willy-nilly. But sometimes those safety valves get evaded and the best of us can become victims of baseless hatred. And having being victimized, we'll victimize others.

The chain reaction will continue till someone has the sanity to stop it. What does that sanity consist of? I want to leave you with a notion that it consists of an obligation that rests on all of us.

Identifying Baseless Hatred in Our Own Lives

The first two safety valves are instinctive; those safety valves are good but they are not enough. God expects us not just to rely on our instinctive safety valves but to use our conscious mind. We must not just be contend to ask ourselves, 'Am I justified in being angry at this person?' We have to ask ourselves, 'Am I justified in being this angry at him?'

The level of anger that I am feeling, based on the information that I now have, is that level of anger justified? Or should I be less angry at him? If the feast maker had asked that question, this story would never have happened. If Bar Kamtza had asked that question, that story would never happen. If Rome would have asked that question, the story would have never happened. That is the question we must ask.

 

It is the question that we have to ask when our little girl spills orange juice on the floor and we find ourselves strangely being a little bit too angry. Did something else happen? Did your boss yell at you at work? What are you angry about? Your spouse forget your birthday; okay, you're a little annoyed but are you a little bit annoyed or are you very annoyed? Are you really rage-ful? And if you really find yourself being very annoyed, then instead of just dumping on them, 'Why did you forget my birthday?' Ask yourself, 'So what are you really angry about?' You do all this work and they never appreciate you? They never apologized for the pain they caused you five years ago? Something like that?

Well, then it pays to get in touch with what the something like that actually is and have the honesty to be angry at that. Because then you can deal with it. But if you don't, if you dump it into the birthday, it's just baseless rage. You have taken the degree of anger, heightened it to an irrational stage, and made it impossible to temp down the flames. All you are doing is provoking your spouse to look at you like an irrational human being and lash out irrationally at you or at someone else as the chain reaction continues.

Sinat Chinam and Tisha B'Av

This Tisha B'Av commit yourself not to initiate that chain reaction. Realize that sinat chinam isn't something for other people, it's not something for monsters. It is something that each of us struggles with daily, often without realizing that we are struggling with it.

The next time you feel righteous rage, question your instincts. Before you react in anger, ask yourself this: 'I am feeling angry, yes, but this angry?' That one question can save you, your loved ones, and maybe even the entire Jewish people, a great deal of pain.

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